WINDSOR, CT - The holiday season is a time for enjoying the ones you love and reflecting on all the gifts in your life. This time of year is always especially meaningful for Joan Douglas of Bloomfield. There was a point when she continually feared that the next Thanksgiving or Christmas would be her last.
“It started off with common cold symptoms which led to double lobar pneumonia. I was treated and started to feel better,” said Douglas. “I began to have shortness of breath again and I was told that I needed my mitral valve replaced.”
A mitral valve is located between the heart's left atrium and left ventricle. It has two flaps that open and close together like a pair of swinging doors. When the heart beats, the left ventricle pumps blood out to the body and the flaps swing shut. This keeps the blood in the ventricle from going back into the left atrium.
Initially, Joan received a mechanical valve. However, within weeks the same shortness of breath returned. Back to the cardiologist she went and this time she would get news that would change her life.
“During that visit I had a test performed and that is when I was told that my heart was functioning at 25% and a heart transplant would be my only option to continue my journey in life,” she said.
The wait for a new heart is not a quick one. People can sit on the list for months or years. For Joan, the wait brought several setbacks. She was weak, depressed and slowly losing her grip on life. On several occasions she was rushed to the ER as a result of congestive heart failure. But after more than 6 months of waiting the call came.
“At that point I was very happy and scared. I immediately called my daughter Valerie and said 'well this is it my new heart has arrived and I need you to bring me to the hospital to check in,” she said.
It’s now been 17 years since Joan received her new heart and new life.
“I live my life to the fullest, loving each and every moment,” she said. “No more shortness of breath, no more feeling weak and no more worrying about tomorrow.”
So this holiday season and every other, Joan Douglas gives thanks to the generous person who gave her a second chance. She also thanks that person’s family.
“I am happy beyond words that the donor family who lost a loved one had the heart to give the gift of life to someone else. Even though the donor family remains anonymous I would like to give thanks and praise to their family. On behalf of my family and myself we are very grateful and appreciative for our gift of life.”
As part of her gratitude, Joan also uses her story to help motivate others to save a life. At every opportunity she educates people on the importance of organ donation.
“I would like to say to those who have not considered that now is the time to give the gift of life, if you have never considered being an organ and tissue donor, I am living proof that the gift of life really works.”
In this country, 18 people die each day waiting for an organ donation. A single organ donor can save the lives of eight people, while a single tissue donor can save and heal 50 others through needed heart valves, corneas, skin, bone, and tendons that mend hearts, prevent or cure blindness, heal burns and save limbs.
LifeChoice Donor Services, Inc. is the federally designated, non-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) for six counties in Connecticut and three counties in Western Massachusetts with a combined population of 2.2 million people. The OPO serves twenty-three acute care hospitals for organ and tissue donation and two organ transplant hospitals, Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT and Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA.
LifeChoice Donor Services is a member in good standing of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO). For more information about LifeChoice and to join the Donor Registry, please visit www.lifechoiceopo.org or call 1.800.874.5215.