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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

RIP Jenna Lowe

It's been a month since the extraordinarily inspiring, Jenna Lowe passed away.

Jenna was diagnosed with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension at the age of 17 and so began her struggle to learn more about this rare lung disease and prevent it from shortening her life. (Read more about the disease on  jennalowe.org).
During this time I stumbled across Jenna on Twitter and started chatting to her. Her strength and beautiful soul was evident through her tweets and I knew that this person was very special. I then receieved my transplant and the next time I contacted Jenna she had started the getmeto21 campaign to raise awareness for organ donation.

She was very ill at this stage and desperately needed a double lung transplant. I was in touch with her mom and tried my best to be there to offer support to them during the difficult wait for lungs. I finally got to talk to her for the first time on radio when we were both interviewed on Cliff Central and that was very special. 

The #GetMeTo21 video that Jenna made went viral and encouraged so many people to sign up as organ donors! (Currently over 6000 people have signed up through the campaign).

sign up HERE

Jenna got her new lungs on the 4th of December 2014 and we were all so delighted that she had been given the second chance that she well and truly deserved.

"It’s the most incredible feeling to have a dream and know that you could reach it"
Jenna's blog post A second Chance At Life

"I walked up 7 stairs today, one for each life a donor could save" 
Jenna's blog post Getting There

Unfortunately most people think that having a transplant is this miraculous cure and all of a sudden you are strong and healthy and can run off to experience life. This is not true. The real fight for life only starts after transplant. Despite years of sickness and pain, after a transplant things, at first, don't get better, they get a lot worse. It's unfair that someone so sick has to go through even more suffering in order to get better but that is the reality.

For over 6 months Jenna was in hospital fighting for life. Every day she experienced more pain than anyone should in a lifetime. Constant nausea, multiple painful procedures, daily invasive tests and so many other grueling experiences that no one will ever understand. I visited Jenna a few times in hospital and as weak and in pain as she was she always managed to smile. She was such a gracious lady who radiated energy and kindness. It was such an honour to have gotten to meet and know her.

Unfortunately Jenna had so many post transplant complications and it all become too much for her frail body to handle.

On the 8th of June, it was my birthday. I was having the most wonderful day with my mom and all my friends when I received a message from Jenna's mom that night informing me of her passing. I knew Jenna was critically ill but she was one of the strongest people I knew and my hope for her to get better had never dwindled. The news of her passing was devastating. My heart was broken for so many reasons:

  • She was too young and had been through so much
  • She had so much more to give to this world
  • I was looking forward to our friendship growing as I got to know this beautiful girl more
  • She was 4 months shy of her 21st birthday
  • Her mom, dad, sister and loved ones were suffering a great loss

There is so much more to be sad about but in the end,this loss is felt because of the joy she brought us all. She touched so many lives and her legacy will live on to touch many more. 

My message to Jenna on the day of her memorial

Tributes from across the country poured in and the news of Jenna's passing was internationally mourned. Local newspaper The Citizen reported on the tributes, the UK online journal The Mirror shared the loss to millions and SA People paid tribute to Jenna's incredible mom.

Jenna's mom, Gabi was by Jenna's side the entire journey, much like my mom was there for me. The family, who lived in Cape Town, moved to Joburg when Jenna got her lungs so that they could be with her during her recovery. Jenna's younger sister, Kristi also relocated and changed schools to be with her big sister. The family is amazing and provided Jenna with the support she needed to get through everything with her head held up high.

Kristi, at the tender age of 15 released a single "I need more time" dedicated to her sister and went on to sing it in at the Newlands Rugby Stadium in Cape Town in 2013.

Such a strong and remarkable family.

After Jenna's passing, her mom went on Cape Talk radio to share some of her thoughts on her daughter. The interview is heartbreaking and if you have the strength you can listen HERE.

Gabi shared a poem that was sent to her by one of Jenna's teachers. The poem shows how wise this young woman was, even as young as Grade 6. I wrote down the poem whilst listening to the interview and so I hope it is accurate:

My life is a braid
By Jenna Lowe

My life is a braid, some parts tightly woven, some parts weakened in a way.
The future lies before me, the threads are not yet sown.
 Lying in a pattern one that I can’t understand, lying so uncertain like a wave upon the sand.
My destiny is a blank page, the pen is writing as I speak.
Sometimes I’ll be strong and calm at others scared and weak.
All I know for sure is that nothing’s yet complete.
The world will carry on without me none the less, less sweet.  
I can make a difference and a difference can make me.
I’m like a tiny seedling growing slowly to a tree.
The future is still coming like a wild and restless sea.
It’s un-contained, I’ve tried in vain, and through me it will seep.
I am shielded as I can be, as I stand I am prepared.
 I must admit though, just to you, that sometimes I am scared.
The future is still coming, surely that you see.
My time is come, my will be done.
Stand back world it’s me. 

I believe the world is, in fact a little less sweet without you Jenna. May you RIP and know that you were loved and will always be missed.

Please, if you have not signed up to be an organ donor, do it for Jenna and sign up HERE.

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