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The gift of life

April 30, 2012
By: 
Raina Delisle
Tags: newsalumni
Peggy Mahoney and David MacIntyre

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Peggy Mahoney is getting the greatest gift of all from her son: the gift of life.

On May 7, Mahoney, a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies student, is scheduled to have a liver transplant. Her son, David MacIntyre, is donating part of his liver.

“When I found out about this option, the ability to save, effectively, two lives, it felt like divine intervention,” he writes on www.sharedpartsneedbighearts.ca, the website he and his mom set up to document their journey. “As if the ability to take a part of my body and attach it to someone else’s wasn’t amazing enough, my liver will regrow to its normal size six weeks after the doctors remove two-thirds of it.”

“My first reaction was, ‘No, you can’t do that. You’re my son. No way,’” Mahoney says of her son’s decision. MacIntyre is a busy young man who lives in Ottawa, where he is working in communications and studying political science at the University of Ottawa. “It was kind of a shock at first that he was thinking of that and then I think it started to kick in that the outcome is better with a live donor and if I don’t let him do it and something goes wrong, he’d be really quite mad at me.” 

Mahoney started feeling sick in 2009. Despite emergency room visits, X-rays andblood transfusions, there was no immediate diagnosis. She wondered if working a stressful job (she was then executive director of the Community Social Planning Council of Victoria), trying to complete a second master’s degree and being a single parent was reason enough for being depleted and anaemic.

“You just continue on until you can’t,” she says.

It was towards the end of her disaster management course – her degree will be in Human Security and Peacebuilding and Disaster and Emergency Management – when she started to feel very sick.

“My class really saw me go from healthy to sick,” she recalls. “I just squeaked through that last course.”

Mahoney managed to complete all of her course work and just has her thesis to write.

Eventually, one of her doctors diagnosed her with liver disease, which came as a shock to Mahoney, who has led a very healthy life. Her prognosis was to get sicker until she needed a liver transplant, which seemed years away in her case. 

However, in 2011, she was rear-ended while stopped at a red light, which sent her body into distress and her liver stress indicators skyrocketing. A transplant was then on the agenda and her son and her sister were both exploring the possibility of being a donor. A few weeks ago, Mahoney and MacIntyre learned that they were a match and that their surgeries were set for May. 

Mahoney quickly became aware of the expectations on the patient and families for support and financial resources. Vancouver is the only centre in B.C. that provides liver transplants and post-surgery care. As a result, most patients living outside Vancouver must find and fund their own accommodation in Vancouver for several months after surgery. There are some accommodation resources available through B.C. Transplant. There is also a new pilot project that provides a small daily subsidy for families ($20/day). But there is no Jeneece Place equivalent for adults.

Transplant patients must also find support persons to stay with them for three months after release from hospital. For live donor transplants, there is also a need for support and accommodation for the donor. With travel and other expenses, the total costs to the family can be as much as $10,000.

“I wonder how some families do it. And I’m sure some don’t,” Mahoney says. “It’s a huge undertaking for the entire family to support someone through this.”

Mahoney has family members coming from Ontario to help, as well as her daughter, a nursing student in Nanaimo. 
 
Once she’s better, Mahoney hopes to help other families going through the same thing. She would like to hand over her website to another family and, to this end, purposely didn’t use her name in the URL.

“The template is there and once you’ve done the template, a lot of the work is done,” she says, adding that updating the content with a new family’s info would only take about two hours. “Lots of people don’t have the skills or motivation to set up a site because you’re really in a panic mode.”

Mahoney, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, would also like to establish a charitable organization so people can get tax recipes for donations to families in need.

She is also looking forward to getting back to Royal Roads.

“I see my classmates moving on doing such wonderful things in the world and I think, wait, I want to do those things too,” she says. 

But, for now, Mahoney is focusing on her upcoming surgery and some much needed time with her children. She’s not sure how she’ll be feeling on Mother’s Day, so she is planning on going out for dinner with her son and daughter in Vancouver the night before her surgery.

“I’m looking forward to Peggy Mahoney being healthy and full again, being the 100 per cent capable and positive part of this community that she is,” says Prof. Roger Girouard, who teaches in the School of Peace and Conflict Management.

Girouard taught Mahoney in 2007, and the two have kept in touch since then. He urges people to do what they can to help Mahoney, a woman who has been an active contributor to the community, having worked most of her career in the nonprofit community sector. She was executive director of the agency that provides the counselling for abused kids in the Victoria region and program manager for the crisis line.

“For all the challenges she’s had, the sun will always rise,” Girouard says. “She’s always had this very positivist view. She’s a pretty neat person to be around. She always has an eye to what she can contribute.”