July 19, 2005 is a day Jillianne Code remembers not as the day she moved to the Lower Mainland, but as the beginning of a 10-year journey to find a heart transplant.
Code, who currently lives in Fairfield, moved from Edmonton, Alberta to Coquitlam, B.C. to complete her PhD in educational psychology at Simon Fraser University. Code and her husband Nick were unloading their belongings at their new home when she collapsed.
The then 29-year-old was unable to walk more than three feet and had difficulty breathing.
Code was rushed to a nearby hospital where she was touch-and-go for roughly 72 hours. But medication improved her health.
She was then diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump effectively, leading to the build up of fluid in the lungs and surrounding body tissue. Doctors suspected the condition was a result of a virus, but didn’t know for sure.
This was also the first time Code heard the words “heart transplant.”
“It was really difficult to come to terms with that. But one of the ways was that I just threw myself into school. My body wasn’t working, but I was determined that my brain would,” she said. “It’s overwhelming and it’s upsetting and it’s a very difficult word to hear.”
After a stint in hospital, Code was more determined than ever to complete her schooling. She finished her PhD and made plans to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University.
In 2010 before she left for Boston, she suffered a stroke, leaving her unable to use her left arm and slurring her words, which prompted doctors to implant an internal defibrillator that allowed her to travel to Harvard.
But that didn’t let her stop her from pursuing what she loved.
“For better or worse, you become determined,” Code said, adding she remained relatively stable for the next few years.
But in 2013, she began to feel tired and doctors told her it was time to seriously consider a heart transplant. After a year of waiting in October 2014, she finally received a call that doctors found a potential match.
“It’s a very mixed blessing because that means that somebody else is going to lose their life, or someone else needs to lose their life in order for you to keep going with yours,” Code said. “You really have to think of it that way.”
Since the transplant, Code’s quality of life has improved dramatically — she even completed her first five kilometre run six months after the transplant and is now an assistant professor at the University of Victoria.
Now, Code is sharing her story with residents of Victoria and Esquimalt to encourage people to become registered organ donors.
In partnership with B.C. Transplant, Service B.C. locations around the province, including one in Victoria, now invites people to become registered organ donors.
According to Ron Hinshaw, executive director of Service B.C., the number of registered donors has increased to 4,489 province-wide in December from 2,286 the same month the previous year since the partnership began in April. Locally, there have been 139 people registered through Service B.C. since September.
“Many people think they’re already registered and in fact, they’re not. It’s just a matter of bringing it to front of mind for people when they are in a position to actually register,” Hinshaw said.
“There are a lot of people who are in need of a life-saving or life-changing transplant just to save their life or improve the quality of their life. The more we can do as citizens, as government, as individuals to facilitate the availability of organs, the better off our society will be.”
To register visit transplant.bc.ca.