Cape Town - About 12 years ago, a sparkly little girl of eight wrote a book. Almost prophetically, it was about a young girl who took ill and went in search of a special tree for a cure. At the end of her quest, she returned home.
That girl was Jenna Lowe, who had since touched many hearts around the world and gained enormous support for the concept of organ donation through her “Get me to 21” campaign as she sought her real life special tree, and found it.
Lowe died on Monday at the age of 20 after a three-and-a-half year battle with pulmonary hypertension and other health problems.
She did not get to 21, as she had hoped. But she had vastly improved the odds of getting transplants for the 4 900 people on the South African transplant register and she had touched thousands of hearts around the world and in this country with her soulful campaign.
With her #getmeto21 campaign, Lowe took to the internet and social media to recruit more people as organ donors.
As far as her own need for a transplant was concerned, Lowe’s campaign had actually succeeded. She recently underwent the difficult and dangerous procedure of a double lung transplant. Although the transplant was a success, she could not survive other afflictions that assaulted her body, her father, Stuart Lowe, explained.
Pulmonary hypertension is a rare lung disorder in which the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through the vessels. As a result, the blood pressure in these arteries – called pulmonary arteries – rises far above normal levels.
Stuart Lowe described how his own life and those of his wife Gabi and other daughter, Kristi, had been touched by Jenna.
“Obviously, everything that has happened was inspired by Jenna,” he said.
“When she was eight, she wrote a book. Ironically, it was about a child who takes ill and searches for a special tree and then goes home. She always had a clear view of how the world should be.
“When she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, she developed an idea about how poor the organ donor situation in South Africa was. She had suddenly become one of 4 900 people waiting for a transplant.
“Partly for saving her own life, partly for saving other lives, she began the campaign to recruit more donors.”
Stuart Lowe said his family and he remained “completely committed” to the campaign and to organ donation.
“We remain inspired not only by what she did but how she did it, from her bed not being able to breathe properly. Through it all, she remained incredibly graceful. Her will to live kept us going.”
Stuart Lowe said his family would always remain grateful to the family of the donor whose lungs were transplanted to Jenna.
“They also lost somebody. They are in our thoughts as well, again now, because Jenna’s death is also relevant to them.”
He said people who were inspired by Jenna’s life should sign up as donors and get friends to sign up as donors.
“Jenna was indirectly responsible for drawing more than 20 000 people to the cause. We remain inspired by her life.”
Samantha Nichols, the executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation, said from October last year to March this year, when Lowe’s campaign was at its peak, 17 476 people had registered as organ donors, compared to 7 773 during the corresponding period a year before and 9 599 two years before.
Directly, from her website alone, 4 862 people had signed up.