If you’re tempted to wonder if organ and tissue donation makes a difference, wonder no more. Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 TCS New York Marathon winner who recently had knee surgery to repair her severely damaged right patellar tendon, has posted that she has sent a letter of thanks to her tissue donor’s parents.
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This past weekend, I took the opportunity to write a letter to the family of my Cadaver donor. My new patella tendon is from the hamstring of a 21year old. ~~~~ I thanked the family for their generosity and gift of tissue from their loved one. I said how sorry I am for their loss but wanted them to know what an amazing impact the decision has made. Hopefully they can find comfort in knowing how it will enhance the quality of my life. ~~~~ I will never look at my knee the same. I’m moved beyond words knowing what a gift I’ve been given ✨✨ ~~~~ And once again, so grateful for the wonderful care by my surgeon @thekneedoc
Looking vulnerable in a hospital gown and cap and with a tube in her nose, Flanagan posts that her donor, whose death resulted in her receiving their hamstring tissue, was 21 years old. She wanted the parents to know she was sorry for their loss, and appreciated their child’s decision to donate. (When a commenter asked how she was able to contact them, she responded that donor families may elect to be contacted, or not. Similar rules apply in Canada.)
The comments reveal that her actions have had a very favourable impact. One runner wrote: “How special for them to know that their child lives on in the body of a champion, legend, and inspiration to so many.” Another wrote that she lost her 28-year-old husband, who was hit by a car while out for a run. “He was an organ and tissue donor, and while I was told that numerous people received his donations, it was hard to fathom that any of it made any difference. I didn’t believe it truly affected anyone. This puts a tangible face and reality in front of me and lets me know he truly did make an impact. Thank you SO much for sharing these details.”
Flanagan’s right patellar tendon (which connects the kneecap to the shinbone) was 75 per cent detached, making it necessary for the surgeon to use donated tissue to craft a new tendon. (Flanagan had injections of platelet-rich plasma and bone marrow concentrate using bone marrow from her hip into both knees in an effort to speed healing.)
After the marathon in November, where Flanagan finished third behind four-time winner Mary Keitany and 2018 London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot, she revealed that she almost did not run on account of the pain in her knees.
“I will never look at my knee the same,” Flanagan writes. “I’m moved beyond words knowing what a gift I’ve been given.”