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On the 10th anniversary of her husband’s death, she got a letter from the person who received his lungs

On the 10th anniversary of her husband's death, Joan Fisher opened her mailbox to find a special letter from someone she's never met. It was from the man who was the recipient of her husband's lungs a decade ago.

It's not the first time Joan Fisher has heard from recipients

A woman sitting at a table with letters strewn in front of her.

On the 10th anniversary of her husband's death, Joan Fisher opened her mailbox to find a special letter from a man she's never met.

When her husband John died suddenly 10 years ago, several of his organs were donated including his liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs.

This most recent letter marks the third time she's heard from the man who received her husband's lungs over a decade ago.

"It's really gratifying to get those letters, to know that part of someone you really loved is still living in the world," Fisher said.

In one of the first letters, the recipient wrote about some of the experiences he'd enjoyed since the transplant, like taking in a NASCAR race with his father and brother.

"My husband loved cars," she said. "I was like, oh God, his lungs got to go to the NASCAR races, he would love that."

Other than the details shared in the letters, Fisher has no idea who the man is. In Ontario, the names of organ recipients aren't shared with the families of donors.

But if both parties agree, they can exchange letters.

My wife and daughter thank you for every moment you have extended my life to be with them.

– Anonymous organ recipient

"It's been a decade since you gave me the gift of life again. I want to promise you I have not wasted it. There is not a single day that goes by that I don't think of you," reads part of the letter Fisher received most recently.

The writer goes on to describe how his life has changed over the past 10 years. Since the double lung transplant, he's been able to witness his daughter graduate high school and university, celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary, and travel around the globe with his family.

"My lungs are still holding strong, allowing me to believe for even more celebrations," he wrote.

"All of this to say, I hope you know I love your family, my donor and this gift. My wife and daughter thank you for every moment you have extended my life to be with them."

'It's like he's still out there'

These aren't the only letters she's received since her husband's organs were donated. The same year John died of a brain bleed, a letter came from the recipient of his liver.

His liver "saved my life," wrote the person. "Now I have a chance to live until I'm old."

A few days after John died, Fisher also received a letter informing her that his eyes were used in two sight-restoring transplants.

It's always an amazing feeling to receive those letters, Fisher said, and knowing that two people got their eyesight back because of his donation was "so great."

Fisher and her husband were together for close to 42 years before he died, and she still misses him dearly.

"He was pretty special. He's part of me. I hear his voice every day," she said.

But she takes comfort in knowing that even after his passing, he's doing what he always loved: helping people.

"It's like he's still out there," she said. "Lots of parts of him are still out there with other people, and he's still helping."

Ottawa Morning9:22An organ transplant thank you letter

<p>Joan Fisher shares the story of a special letter arriving in her mailbox — from the man who received her late-husband's lungs ten years ago.</p>

Demand for organ donations not being met

Hearing from the recipient of a loved one's organ can mean a lot for a donor family, said Dr. Andrew Healey, provincial medical director for organ and tissue donation with the Trillium Gift of Life Network.

"It sort of continues the legacy of that person who has died and given this tremendous gift. It might lighten their process of grief in some way," he said.

Not everyone chooses to communicate, Healey said. It can often be a challenging time for both the grieving family and the organ recipient, who will be recovering and healing post-surgery.

Even if a donor family doesn't receive letters from a recipient, the Trillium Gift of Life Network will share with them which organs were donated, and the general age range of the people who received them.

"We ensure they understand that the recipients are deeply grateful for this new gift of life that they've received, and that's expressed to these families on an ongoing basis," Healey said.

In Ontario, more than 1,100 people are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, and thousands more would benefit from tissue donation.

With around 35 per cent of Ontarians registered as donors, the demand for organ transplants isn't being met, Healey said.

"It's something that we really encourage others to talk about with their families, and to register their consent so their families don't have to make another difficult decision at a time of tragedy."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Safiyah Marhnouj is a reporter with CBC P.E.I. She is a 2022 Joan Donaldson scholar and recently graduated from Carleton University’s journalism program. You can reach her at safiyah.marhnouj@cbc.ca.

    With files from Giacomo Panico

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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