It has been six months since Hélène Campbell’s double lung transplant, eight months since she first appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and nine months since she persuaded Justin Bieber to tweet his support for organ donation.
Over that time, the 21-year-old Ottawa woman has become the focus of a movement to get more people to register their willingness to donate their body parts posthumously to save the lives of others.
Ms. Campbell is not yet strong enough to accept Ms. DeGeneres’s invitation to travel to Los Angeles and dance with her on her show. But she is a tiny, articulate and inspiring champion for the cause of transplants.
On Tuesday, she spoke at a news conference to announce the launch in Canada of a new tool on Facebook that could compel more Canadians to make the gift of their organs. Here are some of the questions and her responses.
Can you give us an update on your condition? Do you still struggle since the operation? Or are you able to do some things you haven’t been able to do?
I absolutely have been able to do things I was not able to do before – going to the gym, biking, stuff like that. That’s a big achievement on my part. My mom loves that I can clean again. But health-wise with a transplant, they really, really let you know that it is not a cure. It is something that is a treatment. So I will be taking meds for the rest of my life and there are side effects due to the medication … But it’s been very, very good to me. And I can breathe. I blew up a balloon the other day.
Do you ever think about the person whose lungs are inside you and do you ever say thank you to them or wonder who they were?
Every day. It’s something I will never, ever forget. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the world that’s so busy. But often, when I take my anti-rejection meds, I stop and think of this family and the loved one who passed away and who lives through me and breathes through me and I am so blessed to have that. So it is something I think about quite regularly and I am so thankful to that family for giving me life.
What do you think when you go online and see videos of people doing the Hélène Campbell dance in support of organ donation?
I think we live in a wonderful world where people are willing to act on something like this – a selfless act that can help save others’ lives and I am just so blessed by this amazing support and it’s such an incredible inspiration to me. And it shows me how much we are loved. I value faith and I believe there is a God taking care of us and it really shines through in this whole situation, how just everyone has jumped on board. And there has been such amazing support from 161 countries, actually.
Has raising awareness about the need for organ donation become the focus of your life or are you doing things you used to do before you got sick with pulmonary fibrosis?
I am multi-tasking. It is a cause that is literally and figuratively near and dear to my heart and has saved my life.
And there are so many others like me waiting with a story. And there is someone else some day who will come up with a story about kidneys or livers that will encourage others to register, I am sure.
This is something that I have been doing, and it is a cause that I love to advocate for, and I am still going back to life and doing normal regular things.
Out of this whole journey, what was the most inspiring moment? Was it The Ellen DeGeneres Show? Was it the Justin Bieber tweet? Or was it something else>
There have been so many. But it was waking up after my surgery and realizing these lungs are mine and I’ve made it. That was the moment where reality hit me. … You are put to sleep and you don’t know if you will ever wake up again. And I woke up. And that is when I realized this is what has happened to me. I am alive because of a gift that someone has passed on.