In 2005 at age 29, Jillianne Code was excitedly anticipating many new adventures. She was in the process of moving to British Columbia from Alberta, looking forward to tackling a PhD in educational psychology at Simon Fraser University, and getting married to the man of her dreams. However, the fast-paced trajectory of her busy life came to a crashing halt when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, likely caused by a virus that attacked her vital organ.
“I feel as though my life has been lived in two phases – before sickness and after sickness,” she explains. “When I first became sick there was talk about a heart transplant. Luckily, I responded well to medication and was able to resume a somewhat normal life for a few more years.”
Jillianne finished her PhD and made plans to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University. Before she could leave for Boston, she was sidelined by a stroke and further complications with her heart. More medication and surgery to implant an internal defibrillator allowed her to follow her educational pursuits. However, by 2013 she was battling severe congestive heart failure and it soon became clear that a transplant was her only option.
“I tired easily, I couldn’t walk distances and I had difficulty breathing,” she recalls. “While I waited for a donor heart, I had to stop myself from planning for the future because it was too scary and depressing. I’d get through each day and wouldn’t plan more than a week in advance.”
Finally, in October 2014, Jillianne received the most bittersweet phone call of her life. A donor heart had become available.
“It was exciting and nerve wracking and brought about a deep sense of guilt,” she says. “Someone had just died and while there were so many people waiting for a transplant, this heart was going to be mine.”
As a heart transplant recipient, Jillianne is determined to bring awareness to the issue of organ donation by working with BC Transplant. Recently, she was asked to tell her story to Victoria Service BC staff as part of a partnership between Service BC and BC Transplant in a unique awareness campaign designed to provide Service BC clients with information on organ donation and encourage them to register their decision to become an organ donor on-site or online.
“When I spoke to staff, the room was filled with contemplative silence and the questions were excellent – respectful and curious,” she says. “They seemed to appreciate seeing the living impact of some of the work they are doing.”
After Jillianne told her story to a rapt audience of government employees, Service BC Customer service representative Megan Hurst found herself profoundly touched by the experience.
“Her story made everything incredibly real for us – it allowed our staff to hear firsthand about how our work is affecting lives,” says Megan. “It means so much to help people register their decision concerning organ donation, knowing that decision will have such a powerful impact on the lives of other British Columbians. This is a partnership my colleagues and I are very proud to support.”
More than a year after receiving her new heart, Jillianne is incredibly grateful for the gift of life.
“The decision that someone made to donate their organs not only saved my life – it gave me a new sense of purpose,” she says. “After living for so long in the present, I now get to reinvent my future. It sounds clichéd, but this gift really did give me a second chance.”
Friendly staff at all 62 Service BC centres in communities throughout the province now provide information on organ donation and help residents register their decision on-site. People with online access can also register at: http://www.transplant.bc.ca/