The fact a family he will never get to know took a few minutes to fill in a form has let Mike Gravelle breathe a little easier for the past 16 years.
Gravelle, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was just 18 months old, was rapidly closing in on his last breath before he received a double lung transplant in 2003. “When I got on the operating table I was down to 118 pounds and my lung function was at 18 per cent,” said the six-foot-one co-owner of the West Shore Barber Shop on Goldstream Avenue.
According to Canadian law, recipients of organs are not allowed to contact the donor’s family, and the donor’s family are not able to know the identity of who they assisted, Gravelle explained. “I was able to send them an anonymous thank you card to express how grateful I am for the gift of life.”
When he was diagnosed, the average life expectancy for someone with CF was about 30 years. Gravelle’s lung function was spiralling downward rapidly by the time he turned 23.
There was only one double lung transplant performed in Vancouver that year, and only a couple the year before, so Gravelle had no option but to go to Toronto for his surgery.
“Things have definitely improved and that’s great to see,” noted the 46-year-old Colwood resident. “There’s been more than 50 transplants a year in Vancouver the last couple of years. I’m able to lead a normal active life now. I’m very positive I’ve got a lot of years left.”
There isn’t a lot of data available on people 16 years post surgery, however, he noted. Although he must strictly adhere to a regimen of three prescriptions twice a day for the rest of his life, Gravelle says that’s a “small price to pay,” and he’s focused on the years ahead with his wife, Crystal Daigneault, his partner for the past 12 years.
Maintaining a positive outlook wasn’t always easy, he admitted, especially in the last two years before the surgery. “I always hoped for the best, but I had some dark times as well. I’m still absolutely overwhelmed by the support from the people in my hometown of Lake Cowichan and on the West Shore. They raised enough money to cover my accommodations and living expenses during the 11 months I had to live in Toronto, and I’ll always be so grateful for that.”
What’s extremely important to Gravelle at this juncture of his life is getting out the message of the importance of helping others through organ transplants.
“I hope anyone hearing my story signs up to be an organ donor,” he stressed. “I’m living proof of the difference a second chance at life can make. It’s an amazing way to turn a tragedy into a miracle for someone else.”
To sign up as a donor or for more information, check out transplant.bc.ca.