“It was the hardest letter I have ever written, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I said, I’m now able to dance, I’m able to walk and talk and breathe at the same time. I was told I wouldn’t get a reply and for me that was fine.”
In 1994, 27-year-old West Australian Carolyn Boyd received a life-saving lung transplant after being told she had just hours to live.
Two years later, she decided to contact her donor’s family to let them know what a difference their gift had made.
At the time, organ donor identities were fiercely protected.
The Red Cross set up communication between Carolyn and her donor family but did not allow any identifying information in the correspondence.
Any names or addresses were redacted.
“Eventually I received a typed letter from my donor family,” Carolyn recalls.
“It said in the letter that they had recently purchased a cherry orchard, that they had livestock who were always having young.
“And young was spelt with a capital Y. And I just assumed it was a typo.”
The day Carolyn received that reply, an old friend from Canberra had dropped by for a visit. She read over the family’s letter and spotted something Carolyn had missed.
“That’s a hint. Young is in New South Wales and that’s where all the cherry orchards are,” Carolyn’s friend told her.
After some painstaking detective work — and more letters containing cryptic clues — Carolyn tracked down her donor’s family. Soon enough, on the phone from her flat from Perth, Carolyn could hear the voices of Terry and Frances Cannon crackling down the line.
“I think I shook throughout the whole conversation. It was just amazing. Asking questions and finding out,” Carolyn says.
Terry and Frances’ daughter, Natalie, was 22 when she died of a sudden brain aneurysm.
She had two young children and was seven months’ pregnant with her third. Natalie had been at the park with a friend when a sudden headache came on and she collapsed.
Hours later, Natalie was being rushed to a hospital in Canberra. By the time she arrived, a priest had been called to meet the car — Natalie was not going to survive.
Doctors managed to save the baby, who was born nine weeks early. But baby Jayde would never meet her mother.
Natalie was put on life support so the family had time to say their goodbyes and a chance to make the decision that would ultimately save another young life.
“Both Frances and I looked at each other and said, ‘We should donate her organs, we’ve got to get something out of this’,” Terry recalls.