Organ Donation Awareness: Creston woman shares experience of receiving liver transplant

Betsy Brierley, who was born and raised in Creston, started experiencing symptoms from an autoimmune disease at age 45

April is Organ Donation Awareness Month. (BC Transplant)

Every year for the month of April, BC Transplant focuses on raising awareness of the life-saving effects of organ donation.

In the hopes of encouraging others to register as donors, a local woman is sharing her story of a liver transplant she received nearly 30 years ago.

Betsy Brierley, who was born and raised in Creston, started experiencing symptoms from an autoimmune disease at age 45. She felt fatigued, nauseous, and her legs and feet were often swollen.

“I was depressed for a couple of years because I just getting sicker and sicker,” said Brierley. “I didn’t have much hope.”

Her immune system was attacking and damaging her liver, which meant she was in need of a transplant.

“It was pretty scary because there wasn’t a lot of information out there about transplants at the time,” she said.

After undergoing tests at Vancouver General Hospital, she was put on a waiting list for a liver transplant. She was sent home with a beeper to alert her when it was time.

A year later in January 1992, she was at a party for New Year’s when she got the long-awaited call.

By that evening, she was leaving the Creston Valley Regional Airport on a B.C. ambulance plane with her husband.

She remembers waving goodbye to her father and her two daughters thinking that she might never see them again.

“It’s been so long now, but I still get teary-eyed thinking about it,” said Brierley.

Thankfully, the operation went well and she gradually started to feel better day by day.

“I was recovering during the spring, which was just lovely,” said Brierley. “I started to go for walks, and the streets around the hospital were lined with cherry blossoms in bloom.”

Brierley learned that her donor had also saved eight other people from grave illnesses with donations of the heart, kidneys, and lungs. Through BC Transplant, she wrote a letter to the family to thank them.

Not long after surgery, she had one rejection episode. She was put on a strong anti-rejection medication to suppress her immune system, which she’ll need to take for the rest of her life.

Now in her 70s, Brierley is still maintaining her health and enjoying her life in Kuskanook.

“I have been really lucky,” she said. “It’s just been a success story for me.”

She wants to urge others to research more about organ transplants and register to become a donor.

There are currently over 4,500 people on organ transplant waiting lists across Canada, with 700 in B.C. A total of 1.5 million British Columbians have already registered their organ donation decision.

“According to BC Transplant, less than one per cent of people die in a way that allows them to be a donor,” said Brierley.

“You’re more likely to need a transplant during your lifetime, than you are to become a donor. In other words, to be a donor, you have to be on life support with no hope of recovery.”

Anyone can register their decision online. A decal on your driver’s licence is no longer enough. There is no age limit for organ donation. The oldest organ donor in Canada was 92 years old. Parents will need to sign for children under age 19.

For more information or to register as a donor, visit www.transplant.bc.ca.

Creston Valley