ROCHESTER, Minn. - While 2020 was a tough year for most of us, it was also a record breaking year for Mayo Clinic with 49 lives saved thanks to an organ transplant. That's the highest the clinic has seen in a decade.
After 7 and a half years on the wait list, Dawn Burnaby received a liver transplant in November of 2020. A year she said was her worst year and best year. March 6th was the last day she was able to leave her home for something other than an appointment. For 8 months, Burnaby isolated herself to avoid the risk of not getting a transplant. She finally received a direct donation on November 16th, which means the family of someone who passed away knew of her condition and donated the liver directly to her.
When the pandemic hit, Burnaby explained she knew she had to take every precaution possible, no matter how tough it was for her and her family. "We all discussed everything and the kids all discussed everything. All things considered seeing as I had been waiting 7 and a half years already for a transplant, none of us wanted to take the chance of spoiling that in case something did come along," she said. "It's been really hard, especially with her by herself," explained Heidi Nicholson, Burnaby's daughter. "I think it might have made it a little easier on all of us had she had somebody with her. But being by herself, we're what she has."
After her surgery, Burnaby spent 45 days in the ICU and Mayo Clinic, then another 30 days at the Gift of Life Transplant house. She said there's a silver lining to finally getting her transplant during a pandemic. Even though she was alone from her family, she had others within the house going through similar situations. "Everybody helps one another. You enter as strangers and you separate as friends," she explained. "It's been a very rewarding experience. You would never think that a liver transplant could be a rewarding experience, but it has been." If all of her blood work comes back normal on Thursday, Burnaby will be able to go back home to Michigan on Friday.
The need for donors far exceeds how many donors there actually is. Currently, more than 114,000 people are on the waiting list.