Kristy's Heart to Heart
Our senior high school Crusaders and staff had the opportunity to learn about the ultimate gift a Crusader family gave when tragedy struck their beloved daughter. Former alumna of the Class of 1991, Dawn Tremblay, tragically died in a motor vehicle accident on May 25, 1996, just one day before her 23 birthday.
Organ donation is only possible when the heart is beating and the organs are getting blood and oxygen. Dawn had signed her organ donor card, and her parents Remi (one of our Crusader bus drivers) and Coral (our former post mistress) honored her final wish to donate her organs. Kristy Thackeray, then 13, who had a disease called restrictive cardiomyopathy (the heart muscle restricts the heart from pumping, thus shutting it down – a condition that 99% of patients die within one year of diagnosis), was added to the transplant waiting list and she was asked what month she thought she would get her new heart. She said her birth month – May. She was told she could take an older heart because her heart is so enlarged that there is room for a bigger heart.
With the help of the Make a Wish Foundation, Kristy arrived at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport on May 25, 1996, to see her country idol, Reba McEntire. While there, the special pager her family received went off. She never saw Reba, but was flown back on a special plane to receive her heart.
The surgery was a go, and an emotional Kristy was scared she would not live through surgery. As they prepped her, Kristy thought about the about the family who had just lost their loved one. At 6:30 a.m., May 26, 1996, her heart was switched with her donor’s heart; and the transplant was considered a success. Dawn Tremblay’s healthy heart began to beat in Kristy’s body on Dawn’s last birthday. Newspapers around the province swirled with news that “Kristy receives a New Heart"; but as the newspaper released news of her successful heart transplant, papers report a family from Elk Point, Alberta, grieved over the loss of their daughter.
Years pass, and on September 30, 2001, two months early, Kristy give birth to miracle babies Shaylynn Dawn and McKayla Mona. The birth of the girls prompted the first meeting with Dawn’s family (Coral, Heather and Maureen), and Kristy learned that Dawn talked about having twins. Coral, who gave birth to Dawn, (who’s heart beat in Kristy’s chest) held Kristy’s baby girls. Kristy’s heart disease had a genetic component, and two years later Shaylynn, would require a heart transplant. Their family received a second gift of life on January 23, 2004, from a Michigan family who’s gift saved another life. Shaylynn just recently celebrated 13 years post-transplant!
Kristy shared this sentiment with our students: “Death is universal for all of us, and we need to have those conversations with loved ones about our wishes for organ donation. Coral and Remi can attest to the conversation they had with their daughter about organ donation and how important this was. My message to you: if you are willing to receive an organ, you should be willing to give one. ”
While Dawn attended FGM, a conversation or presentation sparked her interest in organ donation. That evening Dawn went home and shared with her parents that if anything were to happen to her, that she would like to donate her organs. The Tremblay’s final gift to Dawn was to grant her wish.
Kristy, who was in Elk Point to participate in The 2nd Chance Trail Ride, was also with us at our Crusader Craft sale in November to share her story in the book she wrote. We have a signed copy in our Library Learning Commons for students and staff to sign out. This book is also available at the Elk Point Public Library for check out.
If you sign your organ donor card (located on the back of your Alberta driver’s licence), the organs you can donate include: heart, liver, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and intestines. Tissue donations can include: corneas, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels and connective tissues (such as tendons).
The Crusaders would like to thank both Kristy and the Tremblay family for sharing their story of two hearts with us.