Love on the Heart Transplant List
In a private wing of Winnipeg’s airport, an air ambulance was prepping to take Russell MacDougall to Ottawa, where a new heart was waiting. Until this point, the 35-year-old—convinced that a donor wouldn’t be found in time to save him—had been focused on spending his last remaining weeks with his family. That morning, April 29, 2015, after recovering from the shock of the call about the imminent transplant, MacDougall said goodbye to his 14-year-old son, Declan, and 11-year-old daughter, Kaylyn. He was now absorbed by the upcoming high-risk operation, but he had one more important thing to do before he left. “Let’s go for a walk,” he suggested to his girlfriend, Sherene Wright, 36, leading her outside. Dropping down to one knee on the warm pavement, he pulled out a white-gold diamond solitaire ring.
“I’ll marry you, but you’re probably not going to remember proposing to me when you wake up,” Wright teased. She knew all about the brain fog caused by anesthesia. Three years earlier, Wright had received her own transplant. In fact, a broken heart is what led to the love of her life. (Here are 10 risk factors for heart disease.)
On average, fewer than 200 people receive heart transplants in Canada every year, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which tracks the statistics. The odds of cardiac failure turning into a meet-cute are astronomically low—patients are more likely to die waiting for a heart transplant, as 25 of them did in 2016.
“If your kidney fails, there’s dialysis. With hearts, you don’t have that kind of option,” explains Michael Terner, the program lead of the CIHI’s Canadian Organ Replacement Register. And unlike kidneys and livers, a heart can’t come from a living donor. Wright and MacDougall not only beat the odds to find a match, they got a soulmate in the process.