Organ Donation Month: I don’t know you, but you saved my life

  • Carrie Torney of Charlestown received a liver transplant through the state’s organ donation program.

  • New England Donor Service’s state relations official Matthew Boger holds a cardboard heart in front of recipients of organ donations at the State House on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • For all the medical issues she has faced, Carrie Torney (center) of Charlestown is grateful for the liver transplant she received through the state’s organ donation program. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Glen Wiley received a liver transplant after contracted liver cancer and thinking that it was the end for him. But because the tumor was small, he was able to receive a liver donation. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kenzie Brushwein (left) of Manchester and Yoli Jones of Concord talk about their shared liver transplants from donations as they meet for the first time at the State House organ donation awarness event on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/9/2019 6:14:16 PM

Sometime this summer, Carrie Torney will meet a family from Rhode Island for the very first time.

She has no idea what they’ll do together, but one thing’s for sure: A connection between Torney and these people already exists, a bond with the strength of Krazy Glue.

“We’re making plans,” Torney said. “We’re working that out.”

Torney received a liver during a transplant in 2016 that saved her life. On Tuesday, she was at the State House to recognize Organ Donation Month, along with the governor, doctors and a representative from New England Donor Services, who wants you to be a donor too.

Torney and other recipients reflected on their good fortune and the life-saving gift they received from people they never met, people with a little red heart on their driver’s license.

Those people died. These people thrived. People like Torney, a 57-year-old Charlestown resident. And people like Yoli Jones of Concord and Glen Wiley of Massachusetts, both of whom also benefited from liver transplant surgery.

Jones, who walks with a cane, suffered from an autoimmune disease, meaning her own immune system betrayed her, attacking healthy cells. She underwent surgery 17 years ago, getting 60 percent of her husband’s liver.

Livers, it turns out, regenerate themselves.

“We’re both at 100 percent,” Jones said, referring to her husband. “I feel good.”

Wiley, 67, had liver cancer. He had heard that that was a death sentence, so he assumed he would die. He was wrong. He needed a liver transplant and got one in 2015.

He’s since retired from his career in technology, but that was only because the cliche – life is too short – smacked him in the face, hard. He skis and gardens and does carpentry work. He’s doing well.

“I felt great, back to work in 10 weeks,” he told me. “My partner at work missed 12 weeks with rotator cuff surgery. I do all the things I used to do.”

Like Torney, Wiley never met his donor. He knows the person died, but that’s about it. Male or female? Age? Occupation?

“I know nothing about the donor, other than I was told the person was young,” Wiley said.

Asked what he would say to his donor, Wiley answered, “Thank you. I hope I make you proud.”

Torney’s story begins in 2016, when she woke up with limited mobility and speech. She said she couldn’t finish
a sentence. She leaned against the wall to get to the phone. She called her husband, who came home from work and drove her to the hospital.

Her immune system had failed her as well, and that, along with medication she was on at the time, left her with liver failure and kidney disease. She might one day need a kidney transplant, but said, “I’ll try and hold on to them as long as I can.”

Her liver posed a bigger problem. She spent three months in four different hospitals. She suffered two heart attacks. She was in and out of a coma.

Yet there she was on Tuesday, smiling and appreciating and explaining what she had been through. She’s taking a break from her job as a real estate agent, and her kidney problem slows her down, but “My liver is doing well,” she said.

Torney got part of her donor’s liver. A little boy in a Boston hospital got the rest. She’d like to meet that little boy, who she said is probably 8 by now.

“I don’t know his name and I don’t know where he is from,” Torney said. “But we’re connected, and I hope to meet him one day. He was so young, I don’t know how much he would understand about the process.”

As for the person who saved her life, Torney sent the family a thank-you card and got a letter back. She’s exchanged emails with the donor’s mother and sister.

She learned that the person was a 29-year-old man who liked soccer and had three siblings. She knows his name but wanted to keep it to herself.

“I probably should not give it to you,” Torney told me. “I try to be respectful.”

She has a date with the family. Sometime this summer. She’ll learn how the man died, what he was like, what he did for work, how his death affected his loved ones.

She emailed me her thoughts, what she plans on telling them, writing, “I would thank them for raising such a caring young man that cared about others enough to be an organ donor so others would live. He saved others as well.”

Plans to meet – the place, the time, the date – will come later. One thing is for sure, though:

“Hugs all around,” Torney said.


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