In my sister's new book Confessions of a Kidney Transplant Recipient, I am a chapter. Several years ago at Christmas, she gave me the chapter, a rough draft, as a gift. For a gift so personal, I treated it nonchalantly by politely thanking her and placing it to one side. I kept thinking if it were my story, I'm not so sure I'd share it so openly, but that's my sister.
Friends have called my sister, Mary, a little firecracker, as a compliment. She's outgoing and has a quick wit. She loves to travel and live life to the fullest. For her 30th birthday last August, she wanted to celebrate with a hot-air balloon ride. (I'm not as daring.)
She's not afraid to tell the world her story. She was born with renal failure. She had her first kidney transplant at the age of five and a second when she was 12. Her life and our family's history for so long revolved around hospitals, doctors and survival. There was a shortage of organs available for donation and a lengthy waiting list for the ones they had.
Despite the adversities she's faced, Mary considers herself lucky. She tackled the book with chutzpah. She blogged a chapter a month, sometimes more. The book, back then just a seed, became a marathon project and as much about her journey as a kidney transplant recipient as it is about hope and inspiration. It is also about public awareness.
Here in Hong Kong, the waiting list for organ donations remains lengthy. Case in point: according to the Department of Health as of December 31, the waiting list of 1,808 people for kidneys is the longest among organ/tissue recipients.
While the issue remains under the radar, the Hong Kong government has initiatives for public awareness, including the Garden of Life sculpture near the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre of Kowloon Park. Celebrities and public figures, such as Miriam Yeung and Rita Fan, support the cause.
The Department of Health's Centralised Organ Donation Register makes it easy for prospective donors to go online and get an organ donation card. But there is a long way to go.
There are also the stories of the donor families. My sister is always thankful to hers. One of her kidneys came from a four-year-old girl who died in an accident.
Several years ago, she became an advocate for organ transplants; it was unplanned but came from her passion to help others. She has spent countless hours advocating on Capitol Hill in Washington; she has made speeches to medical professionals; corresponded with politicians; and has become an active board member with organ transplant organisations. For her, it is all about public awareness. But it took me a while to get it.
Two summers ago, in a quiet moment, my sister asked me if I would sign on as an organ donor. She asked me why I didn't place the bumper sticker on my car that read: "Don't take your organs to heaven."
I didn't have an answer, only that maybe I wasn't ready.
Fast forward to today, and I understand my sister's passion. One person's death is another person's second chance. If not for these donors, my sister may not be here today.
Mary has taught me a great deal. Last Christmas, another package arrived from her - three pages of all the people who influenced her, a constellation of close friends and family, the simple things in life she relishes, and things to look forward to including the book. She celebrates life and the anniversaries of both of her transplants.
For transplant recipients, life can be an roller coaster. This month my sister will tackle a hip replacement - a side effect of the anti-rejection drugs she takes. We stand anxiously on the sidelines.
The one person who sounds somewhat at peace is my sister. The book is complete, and her story is out. I recently asked her if she ever wished she had been born normal. "No, I would never want it otherwise," she said. "I know what matters and what doesn't."
She sees the good in life and people, and truly knows what second chances mean. No wonder she doesn't take a single day for granted.
I just purchased copies of my sister's book. The completion of this marathon project triggers thoughts and ponderings about family, God, life's mysteries, death and the gift of second chances - a precious lesson that it is better to share than not.
The cover stares back at me, and I exhale. I am finally ready to open it.