Giving the gift of life
It’s amazing how a conversation can have such a profound impact on your life.
Several years ago, my father, Malcolm Higgins, a native of Cambuslang, Scotland, first voiced his wish to become an organ donor. Sadly, in July 2010, his wish came true. He was in a single-vehicle car accident and sustained a critical brain injury.
When my family and I learned my father would never awake from his injury, we chose to withdraw life support. He was six months shy of his 50th birthday.
My father was born in Scotland in December 1960. When he was six years old his parents emigrated and my dad and his two older sisters settled in Toronto, Canada.
My father’s expansive definition of “discipline”, his infectious laugh and his big heart made him a source of parent-envy among our friends when my three younger siblings and I were growing up. By day he was a college professor and paralegal. By night he was a rock star, singing in one of the best AC/DC Tribute Bands in Canada.
When I first received the phonecall about my father’s car accident, my siblings and I were hopeful. The extent of his injuries was not known, although the doctors said he had a bruise on his brain. When we received the news that he would never awake from his injuries, my entire world fell apart.
The fear, the heartbreak and the devastation were overwhelming. I also remember another feeling: comfort. My father met the criteria for organ and tissue donation, qualifying him to save the lives of three people and enhance the lives of two more.
The decision to donate Dad’s organs was an easy one. He had always discussed it with us and had registered to become an organ donor should the opportunity ever present itself.
For my siblings and I it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, but it was a decision made during a difficult time.
I knew that donating Dad’s organs was the right thing to do. It meant we were honouring his wishes and I knew that lives were going to be saved because of him. What I didn’t know was the profound impact it was going to have on my life.
In November 2010, my three siblings and I were featured in the Toronto Star newspaper as part of a series on organ donation. We told my father’s story, relating how he wanted to be an organ donor and how he carried a blank donor card “just in case” he met someone who wanted to consent on the spot. We also told about his blood donations years earlier that helped a child with leukemia receive the critical support needed during a terrible illness.
On December 14, 2010, five months to the day my father passed away, our family received an incredible gift. It was a collection of letters from the double-lung recipient and his family members. The letters detailed the remarkable impact my father’s donation had had on their lives. After receiving the letters, I knew I had to continue sharing Dad’s story.
I became a volunteer with Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN) and had my first speaking engagement on Valentine’s Day 2011. Since then, I have participated in several events and partnered with the hospital where my dad’s donation took place to produce a video promoting organ and tissue donation. More recently, my father’s story was entered in the Donate Life Hollywood Film Festival in California where it placed second.
I have also been appointed to TGLN’s Provincial Volunteer Committee and established the York Region Gift of Life Association, in response to the low registration rates in my local community.
On April 14, 2012, my sister and I, along with my dad’s two sisters, fulfilled his final wish of bringing him home to Scotland, where his ashes were scattered to join those of his parents.
Talking about organ and tissue donation is not an easy conversation to have with loved ones, but it’s one I’m so thankful my father had with us. That brief talk inspired me to register my consent and has changed my life forever. Most importantly, it saved three other people.
My father always said his four kids would be able to amount to greater things than he ever could, but I beg to differ. There is no greater gift you can give someone than life itself and he achieved that three-fold.
My father, Malcolm Higgins, made a selfless decision that illustrated his generosity of spirit and inspired his four children in countless ways. I could not be more proud that he was — and always will be – my dad and my hero.