Ryan was a happy, active 10-year-old boy who had a full life; baseball, tae-kwon-do, and scouts. A few weeks before Ryan passed away his parents Nancy Lee Doige and her husband Dale had an important conversation with their son; two weeks later, a parents’ worst nightmare, they found themselves at the hospital donating their son Ryan’s organs.
A few weeks before Ryan passed away he saw his father Dale filling out his donor card and was interested in what he was doing. Dale believed that it was important for his son to be aware of organ donation and what was involved. Ryan understanding the concept had asked both his Mom and grandmother if they had signed their donor cards. He strongly supported the idea.
It is because of families like Ryan’s that I am here today. It shows the importance of discussing organ donation with your family and friends; one organ donor can save up to 8 lives and enhance up to 75 lives.
Ryan Lee Doige was only 10 years old when his gift of life transformed other less fortunate people. Ten years old and he wanted to spread the word of organ awareness. He thought it was an amazing idea that people who were seriously sick could be saved after someone had passed away. At his young age, he understood the importance of life.
Ryan’s mother Nancy shares his story just a few weeks before he passed on the Gift of Life!
The day started out normally enough. It was May 1, 1997. Ryan was upstairs preparing to leave for school, while his six-year-old sister, Jamie, waited for him at the front door. Suddenly, Ryan started to tell us about Albert Einstein with such enthusiasm and excitement; it was as if a light had gone off in his head. He said, “E=mc2 – I understand what Einstein was saying: the theory of relativity. I understand now!”
I said, “That’s wonderful,” but thought, how odd. It wasn’t his thinking about Einstein – Ryan was so intelligent – but rather, the timing that seemed peculiar.
At the age of 10, Ryan loved knowledge and seemed to have an abundance of it, far beyond his years. The possibilities of the universe were boundless to him. When he was in first grade, the children in his class were asked to draw a picture and answer the question, ‘If you could be anyone, who would you be?’ Ryan wrote: “If I could be anyone, I’d want to be God.” At age seven, while sitting in church one day, he wrote:
The tree of Life, O, the tree of Glory, The tree of God of the World O, the tree of me.
Somehow, I think Ryan just “got it.” In the midst of his strange outburst about Einstein, Ryan suddenly called out that he had a headache. I went upstairs and found him lying on his bed. He looked at me and said, “Oh, Mommy, my head hurts so bad. I don’t know what’s happening to me. You’ve got to get me to the hospital.”
By the time we arrived at the hospital in Newmarket, he was unconscious. We stood by helplessly as the doctors fought to save his life, and then they transferred him by ambulance to Toronto’s “Hospital for Sick Children“
A couple of hours later, we were finally allowed to see him. He was hooked up to a life-support system. When the doctor told us our son had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was “legally and clinically brain dead,” it felt like a terrible nightmare. Nothing more could be done, the doctor said and asked if we would consider organ donation. Astonishingly, we had discussed this with Ryan only recently. We looked at each other and simultaneously replied, “Oh yes, Ryan would have wanted that”.
In April, Ryan had seen his dad filling out the organ donor card on the back of his driver’s license. His dad had explained to him about organ donations, and how you could help save another’s life by agreeing to donate your organs when you die. When Ryan wondered if you needed a driver’s license to do this, his dad replied that anyone could donate their organs.
Organ donations made such perfect sense to Ryan; he went on his own campaign, persuading the entire family to sign donor cards. We had no doubt that donating Ryan’s organs was the right thing to do.
After a small bedside service, we said our goodbyes to our son. When we left the hospital, we left a part of ourselves behind. Driving home, I could feel a thick fog roll in and surround me; crushing me. We were in total disbelief. My husband, Dale, and I, cried in each other’s arms all that night and for many nights after. It was as if part of me had died with my son.
Grief consumed me for a long time. We kept waiting for Ryan to walk in the door. We grieved for the loss of today, and also for the loss of our hopes and dreams. I realize now you never get over the death of your child. With time you heal, but you are forever changed. It was our daughter, Jamie, who gave us a reason to get up in the morning and carry on.
Then on a beautiful morning, four months after Ryan’s death, the first letter arrived, addressed to my husband and me. As we read it, we both began to weep. It was a 20-year-old university student thanking us for our “gift of sight.” He had received one of Ryan’s corneas and could now see again. It is difficult to describe our emotions – we wept, but at the same time, we felt wonderful.
Some time later, we received a second letter from a young woman of 30 who had received one of Ryan’s “Kidney” and his pancreas. She told us that because of Ryan, she was now free from insulin and dialysis, able to work again and return to a normal life.
Early May brought the painful first anniversary of our son’s death. Then we received our third letter. A young boy of 16, born with cystic fibrosis, had received Ryan’s lungs. Without the double-lung transplant he received, he would have died. Besides being able to return to school, he was now doing things he had never done before – running, playing hockey and rollerblading with his friends. Knowing this boy’s life had been renewed lifted our spirits immensely.
Due to confidentiality laws, organ donation is completely anonymous in Canada. Although we did not know the identities of the individuals who had received Ryan’s organs, we were given updates about their health.
We learned about a six-year-old girl who had received Ryan’s other kidney, and was now healthy, free from dialysis and attending school full-time. We also learned that the 42-year-old woman who had received Ryan’s liver was doing well and was able to again spend time with her young family.
Such joy seemed to come from our sorrow; so much happiness from our loss.
Although nothing could take away our pain, we took great comfort and peace in knowing that Ryan had done something most of us will never do – he had saved lives!
That summer, while on vacation in Haliburton, we met a young man – by sheer coincidence – who had had a kidney and pancreas transplant at the same hospital where some of Ryan’s organs had been transplanted. He knew the young woman who had received her kidney and pancreas on May 2nd from a 10-year-old boy he believed to be our son. Her name was Lisa, and she was doing great. Afraid to ask her last name, I later wondered if I might have passed on my only chance to meet one of Ryan’s organ recipients.
This chance meeting inspired me, and the following spring I decided to share our experience with others. It was a challenge to write our story and send it to the newspapers for National Organ donation Week. I faxed my article to three papers, and to my astonishment, all three wanted to feature it! A flurry of interviews and photo sessions followed, and we experienced an excitement we thought we were no longer capable of feeling.
When the first article appeared, Dale and I were totally overwhelmed when we opened the paper to find that Ryan’s story of hope was the banner story – right on the front page! Included in the article was the poem Ryan had written when he was seven, just as we had it inscribed on his tombstone. We wept tears of joy and sadness as we read it over and over. In his brief 10 years on Earth, our son Ryan had made such a difference.
A few days later, the article appeared in the other two papers, and for a few weeks, we received calls from people all across Canada. Surprised but delighted, we hoped the story would help raise awareness about organ donation, and perhaps inspire others to donate.
Apparently, Lisa also read the article. When she saw Ryan’s poem, she recognized it from a letter we sent her and realized he was her organ donor. The article said we would be at the Gift of Life medal presentation in Toronto two weeks later, so she decided to attend. Once there, she was unsure about introducing herself. We all wore name tags, and when Lisa found herself standing next to Dale, she couldn’t hold back. You can imagine the emotional scene of hugs and tears that followed! It was truly a miraculous, unforgettable moment! It felt so wonderful to see her standing there alive and healthy, knowing that our son had helped make that possible. Ryan’s kidney and pancreas had apparently been a perfect match. A part of him now lives on in her.
Moments later, a woman approached us with her eight-year-old daughter. “I think my daughter has your son’s kidney,” she said. Kasia was just four when both her kidneys had shut down and she had gone on dialysis. The details of her transplant matched, and we all felt certain it must have been Ryan’s kidney that had given this lovely girl a new life. A few weeks later, when we visited Ryan’s grave, we wept tears of joy when we found a beautiful drawing left there signed “Kasia.”
Due to Canadian confidentiality laws, meetings such as these are very rare, and it is impossible to describe the intense emotions that result. When Ryan died, I thought I would never feel joy again. But meeting Lisa and Kasia was a kind of miracle, opening my heart to those feelings I thought had been forever buried with my son.
Today, I now know I will always be the mother of two children. Ryan is, and always will be, part of our lives. Although the pain of losing him will never completely leave me, I have begun putting the pieces of my life back together, though it now takes a different shape. Part of our healing came from our experience of donating Ryan’s organs. I am so grateful that God allowed me to meet Lisa and Kasia so my heart and soul could reopen. Meeting them allowed me to experience that “once in a lifetime” kind of feeling again, the one I thought was gone forever.
Please share Ryan’s story so we can continue Ryan’s HOPE of others becoming organ donors.