Airdronians Cindy Harris, Dawnie McElligott, and Stephanie Lunn all have a bond. But it's not a bond of friendship or sisterhood. Their bond runs deeper - as it rightfully should, considering all three women share the experience of organ donation.

In 2005, when Harris was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis - a chronic disease in which one's own immune system attacks the liver, leading to eventual cirrhosis if untreated, it was a hard diagnosis to hear. It was all the more difficult when eight years later she was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), which blocks the bile ducts, leading to liver damage. With both illnesses wreaking havoc on her liver, Harris was told she would need a liver transplant in order to survive.

"Until you get really, really sick, close to death, you don't have a really good chance - unless you have people that are actively testing for you," Harris said. "I knew I was getting sicker but still not sick enough; my kids started testing."

Her daughter, Stephanie Lunn, along with the rest of Harris' family would undergo various tests to determine whether they were potential matches for their mother. While Lunn was indeed a match, the family's journey was far from over. Lunn explained in order for both her mother and her to be able to undergo the transplant, Lunn would need to be left with 30 per cent volume of the organ. Lunn's volume was determined to be 28 per cent.

"It was very tough. I was angry and sad; all the emotions. It's hard because I didn't know a lot about organ donation. It's not until your family is hit with it," she said. "Then my brothers tested. It was bad news after bad news and you watch her [my mom] go downhill and there's nothing we could do. Then we were blessed with Dawnie."

Dawnie McElligott had known Harris and her family for some time and when she found out about their struggles, it prompted her to make a bold and entirely selfless decision. She decided that she herself would begin the process of medical tests to find out if she might be a potential match for Harris. 

"It was just the right thing to do. I've known Cindy for a long time and just seeing how sick she was becoming... It was just the right thing to do."

When asked if she considered the risks associated with being a live donor, McElligott said that she has never been much of a worrier, but more of a doer.

"I don't think of stuff like that. Everybody around me - my husband, my mom, my sister, everybody worries. It probably wasn't up until we were in the hospital ready to go into surgery that it hit me," she said. "But I said I am going to do it."

And so in October 2021, McElligott donated a portion of her liver to Harris.

eCindy Harris(left) and Dawnie McElligott (right) have always been friends, but the two were forever changed when Harris needed a liver transplant, and McElligott obliged. (Photo provided by Cinday Harris)

"She saved my life," Harris said, through tears of both joy and gratitude.

And while one might think all ends well with a selfless and heroic friend donating an organ so another person may live, Harris' daughter, having already gone through a plethora of tests herself, decided that she would forge forward on her own organ donation path. In October 2022 Lunn, after many more months of tests, was given the news that there was someone she could possibly donate a portion of her liver to. 

"I was told I could donate to a pediatric patient," she said. "I just donated last month to a 15-month-old baby boy. He was diagnosed with liver cancer at 10 months," Lunn said.

Lunn's mother said that both her daughter and McElligott are angels in their own right.

"I don't think many people get to say, 'I got a piece of her liver,'" Harris said tearfully. "People say you'll get your wings when the time comes, but not a lot of people are willing to do what they're doing, and it's hard."

Although Lunn does not know the family of the infant that she donated to because it is an anonymous process, she did say she received a letter from the family and she has already responded back with one of her own.

"They wrote that every time they look at their son, they think of me," she said.

As all the women heal both physically and emotionally, all three have said that it is difficult to describe the bond that they now have, all either having saved a life or having their life saved by another's selflessness and love.

"That's the one thing - knowing that everybody cared genuinely about all of us; Our significant others and partners and just making sure that we were all doing okay, even while we're laying in the hospital beds," Harris said. 

She also urged the public to reach out and educate themselves on organ donation and blood donation because, as she reflected herself, it's not something that becomes pivotal in one's life, until it's a decision that can save their own life or that of a loved one.

"It's knowing what a selfless person can do when they put others ahead."

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