From left, liver recipients Paul Lee and Joanne Arcardo, and the ICU staff at Ridge Meadows Hospital during Operation Popcorn in 2016. (Contributed)

Liver recipient thanking ICU staff at hospital in Maple Ridge with popcorn

Operation Popcorn takes place from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8 across British Columbia

In 2010 Joanne Arcardo became extremely ill.

At a time when all of her friends were getting married and having children, Arcardo was lying in bed and in and out of the hospital.

Previously, at 21-years-old the Maple Ridge resident had been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, or inflammation of the bile ducts and the liver. She was told then that she would have to take one pill a day for the rest of her life and that in the future the incurable disease would lead to a liver transplant.

But, Arcardo said, she was very naive.

“When I was 21 I was like, okay cool, I have to take a pill for the rest of my life, no problem,” said Arcardo, who is now 31.

However, just as she was settling into her career as an accountant, thinking that her life was great and that everything around her was great, she developed another auto-immune disease, irritable bowel disease or colitis.

It was then that her health took a downward spiral.

She was having extreme abdomen pain and irregular bowel movements. And when she was actually diagnosed with the disease that led to the liver failure, she was jaundiced and itchy. She had ascites, where your body fills up with fluid and a lot of pain and fatigue that led to numerous blood transfusions.

Arcardo was put on the list for a new liver. A waiting list that usually takes between one and two years.

For Arcardo, though, a new liver was found within four months. She had the surgery at Vancouver General Hospital when she was 27-years-old.

“When I was eventually told I needed a transplant I was already so sick and so worn out,” she said adding that the diagnosis was also hard for her fianceé who has been by her side for the last 16-years.

“Unfortunately you have to be really, really, really sick to get a transplant,” said Arcardo.

“The fact that I only waited four months is very good in a way that I got it right away. But bad in a way that I was pretty close to dying there,” she continued.

Today Arcardo is very grateful for her life.

On Monday Arcardo and another Maple Ridge resident who also received a liver transplant due to an auto-immune disease, will be paying a visit to the Intensive Care Unit at Ridge Meadows Hospital. They will be expressing their gratitude and the gratitude of transplant recipients across the province for the work that they do making organ donation possible.

“With organ transplants a donor has to be in hospital in ICU on a ventilator. It’s only when two doctors declare a potential donor brain dead then they will contact B.C. Transplant to move forward with organ transplant,” explained Arcardo.

“If it wasn’t for a nurse making that call to say, hey, I could call B.C. Transplant right now, this looks like a potential donor. It really starts with the ICU staff,” she said.

The transplant recipients will be giving the ICU staff at Ridge Meadows Hospital around 30 individually wrapped bags of popcorn from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory packaged in a festive tin.

Operation Popcorn runs from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8 when transplant recipients, living donors, and donor families thank health care professionals on behalf of B.C. Transplant in communities across the province.

This will be Arcardo’s second visit to Ridge Meadows Hospital with Operation Popcorn. The three-year volunteer with B.C. Transplant will also be paying a visit to Royal Columbian Hospital.

“If it wasn’t for medical professionals I wouldn’t be alive today.”

For more information about becoming an organ donor go to transplant.bc.ca.

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