Random Acts of Kindness: Organ recipient has always seen young donor as a hero
The lives of two families, one from Bradford County and one from Monroeville, became intertwined over Labor Day weekend, 2002.
On Aug. 31, 2002, 17-year-old Jordan Fitzwater of Troy lost his life in an ATV accident while I was barely alive, on a transplant list awaiting the gift of life. Ten years ago, on Sept. 1 and 2, I received a pancreas, kidney and bone marrow transplant. Jordan was my donor.
Jordan is also my hero, as are his parents and sisters. Through their grief, during a parent's worst nightmare, they were able to reach out to a total stranger and give selflessly the gift of life.
Not a day goes by that I don't think of Jordan. I wear a button with his picture and the words "My Donor" every day on my shirt for everyone to see. Ten years ago, I was confined to a wheelchair and tethered to a dialysis machine. Now I can walk (albeit with the aid of a walker); I can also bowl and play golf (even if I confuse the two scores, and bowl low and golf high).
In the past 10 years, I have witnessed the birth of six grandchildren. I have participated in five national Transplant Games and one World Transplant Games in Sweden last summer. Next year, I hope to participate in the World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa. I have been able to travel to Israel, France, The Netherlands and Belgium. I have been able to visit friends and family in Florida, California and Massachusetts. Jordan and I together are traveling the world.
We also volunteer weekly at the transplant centers of two hospitals, as well as at a dialysis center and CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education). I helped to form the Western PA Kidney Support Groups, which now has over 300 members.
The generous gift from Jordan and his family have enabled me to continue along the journey of life. I never take their gift for granted, and they are forever in my heart and thoughts and prayers.
I am an Inuk and I live in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I was in Toronto about one month ago and I met a really nice person from Pittsburgh.
I had just traveled to Toronto to catch a charter flight the next day for work on a cruise ship for two weeks in the Arctic. I had had only three hours sleep and I didn't look pretty when showing up at a restaurant.
I told "Jane" that's probably why the waiter wouldn't seat me. She said, "I thought my six-hour drive from Pittsburgh was bad."
She was very kind and told me, between the two of us, we would be able to get a table. She then asked me if I would join her for breakfast. I could not say no, as I needed the company as well.
She told me about this camping trip she was taking with nine other women who were strangers, and the excitement and adventure she was about to embark upon 300 miles north of Toronto. I too was embarking on an adventure to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic with a company called Adventure Canada.
She asked me, "If I catch a fish, what do I do?" and using a napkin from the table I showed her what to do in order to clean the fish.
This woman made me feel so much better after my long day of travel and exhaustion. She spoke fondly of her family, and I told her that my grandparents were like my parents and were very dear to my heart, though they are gone now.
I just wanted to share this story and thank "Jane" for her kindness. One of the passengers on my cruise told me that Pittsburgh had a "pay it forward" column in its local paper. I would like to extend an offer of the same kindness and hospitality to any of your readers who come to visit my province, Newfoundland and Labrador, and also anywhere else in Canada.
Corner Brook, Canada
First Published September 6, 2012 12:00 am