BURK’S FALLS – Bill and Edie Burke waited for a call that took three-and-a-half years to let them know that their daughter would be granted a double lung transplant that would save her life.
Bill and Edie Burke are happy to report their daughter's double lung transplant was a success.
It was an August evening after she tucked her youngest child into bed that she got the call, and it was moments later when Heather Sarsfield was on route to the hospital that she placed the call to her parents.
“We knew she was waiting on these lungs. We knew the day may come when she was going to go in,” said Bill.
However, Bill was not optimistic.
“If she was 24 they would do it a little sooner … as she got older, we thought, this isn’t going to happen,” he said. “I kept thinking that at her age they are not going to give her two perfectly good lungs when there will be a 20-year-old around that needs it.”
Heather suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
“After all that long waiting I was really thinking it wouldn’t happen,” said Bill.
It was August 20 when they got the telephone call from Heather. She was in a limousine on her way to Toronto General Hospital.
Heather’s life hasn’t always been easy. She had a failed marriage and battled health issues. However, her parents say she worked hard to look after her family. She attended Almaguin Highlands Secondary School and completed her Grade 11 education and struggled between working and night school classes to graduate high school. Her parents were proud to say that things were turning around.
At 55, eight of her nine children were grown, all but 10-year-old Lucas, who was the only child by her second husband Luke – the love of her life.
Heather, who her mom says had at one time had a two-pack a day smoking habit, has been attached to an oxygen tank for five years and lived with a tracheotomy. It was then determined she would need a double lung transplant.
Like so many other patients needing organ transplants in this province, she was added to a waiting list.
Health issues of their own kept Bill and Edie from being with their daughter as she lay in her hospital bed for more than 60 days recuperating from the 12-hour operation. Their son-in-law and grandson spent many hours at her bedside.
However, Bill and Edie had a Burk’s Falls connection who also kept them in the know.
Bill, a retired paramedic, worked for many years with Gwen Saul, who had been the charge nurse at the Burk’s Falls Health Centre in the days when it was the Red Cross Hospital.
Saul visited Heather several times a week.
“She got right into detail for us so we knew exactly – we could picture what she was saying,” said Bill. “She kept us informed on everything that was going on.”
There were complications, said Edie.
The lungs were rejecting their host and Heather had an issue with her heart – but the lungs took and Heather survived.
The tracheotomy is gone and she is without the oxygen tank that has sustained her over these many years.
The experience has made young Lucas an advocate pleading for people to sign up to become future donors.
Bill and Edie are not strangers to the horrors of losing a child. Their son James, who was home on leave from the army, was killed in a car accident. He was 18 at the time of his death in 1976. The though of losing another child was heartwrenching.
“When she was on her way in (to the hospital) in the car, the thought hit me, I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” said Bill.
The couple is thankful to whoever the donor was. Due to confidentiality, they will never know who saved their daughter’s life.
“You’ve got to have a heart to do it – realize that people can use stuff that you can’t use any more,” said Bill. “We’re happy.”
Heather has a second lease on life.