Wendy Ryan, of McLean, spent Saturday marking the 12th birthday of a boy who saved her life without ever meeting her.
Ryan and her husband hosted Candace Labadie, the mother of Rohen Clark, whose small bowel donation gave her new life in February 2022.
For Ryan, the donation meant the end of more than a decade of surgeries and therapies that left her unable to eat after a traumatic injury in 2011.
“My organs just were shutting down,” Ryan says. By February 2022, she says, she was probably down to her last few weeks of life when she received the call that a donor had been found.
“All I knew at that point was that my donor was very young and from Michigan.”
Small bowel transplants are rare, Ryan says. Hers was one of only 82 done last year, and 12 of them were done at MedStar Georgetown Hospital, where she had hers. She spent two months in the hospital.
“When I got home, there was a letter waiting for me. And it said, ‘Your donor’s name was Rohen, and he was 10 years old,’” she says.
Rohen was able to help 20 people after his death from a brain aneurysm. Ryan says it’s critical for people to remember “just how important it is to talk about organ donation and to make sure that people at every age make their wishes about organ donation known to those around them.”
The letter explained that Rohen loved dogs and technology, that his favorite color was green, and that he was good in math and electronics.
Ryan and Labadie exchanged letters for the first year, through the intermediary Gift of Life. “And then at the one-year mark,” Ryan says, “I was given the opportunity to contact her.”
‘Hi, this is Rohen’s mom’
Ryan says the Gift of Life worker she got the contact information from said, “Give it 24 hours and then send her an email.”
She didn’t have to. “This was at about 8 o’clock on a Monday morning. And by 10 o’clock, I had a text message on my phone saying, ‘Hi, this is Rohen’s mom,’ with pictures just flooding in.”
Rohen’s dream was to be a K-9 handler. Ryan’s brother is the chief of police in Campbell, California, and asked her whether Labadie would appreciate it if a K-9 officer was given the name Rohen.
“And the family was just overwhelmed and said, ‘Yes; we would love that.’ You know, we think a lot about the legacy and that’s just another beautiful way to honor him.”
Ryan said she and her husband offered to go to Michigan to mark Rohen’s birthday Saturday, but her travel is very restricted. So Labadie came to McLean.
“It was really beautiful,” Ryan says. “His mother walked in the door and we just hugged for a really long time. She said she felt really close to her son when she was with me.”
That connection is one thing Ryan never anticipated about getting an organ transplant: “I never expected was that my family would also grow to include his.”
This morning, Candice Labadie and Wendy Ryan met for the first time. Ryan was weeks away from dying when she received an organ donation from Labadie’s son, Rohen, who was only 10-years-old when he died. More on @7NewsDC at 11. Video courtesy: Silver Ridge Productions pic.twitter.com/7O7UXJCI8N— Christian Flores (@CFloresNews) April 30, 2023
A Life-Changing Gift
Ryan still lives under a lot of health restrictions, but she’s able to eat again, and she’s headed to her daughter’s graduation from nursing school later this month.
It’s changed the way she looks at life, too. She keeps a picture of Rohen on her dresser, and of Labadie, she says, “She has a huge loss. And I have a piece of her son inside of me, and his legacy — I have to live up to that. And I get a second chance; I get that opportunity that he never did.”
“I think that you really get a choice every single day about how you live and how you approach the world around you.” She’s set up a nonprofit foundation to benefit artists working through adversity because art helped her get through long days in the hospital. But the experience has affected her daily interpersonal relationships as well.
“How do I not take this for granted? And how do I continue to make a positive impact on my community and the world around me? And I get that choice every day,” she says.
It’s a difficult set of emotions to manage.
“I don’t know that they’ll ever understand how poignant it is for me,” Ryan says. “My best day, Wendy Lives Day, is also the day their son died. And that’s a lot to hold on to. And you hold both of those in the same hand.”
Feature image courtesy Wendy Ryan
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