News

Selfless gift from stranger paid forward

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Niagara Falls resident Pete Hetherington donated part of his liver to another local resident Sonya Carrie, who in turn donated $10,000 to Women's Place of South Niagara, the agency where Hetherington has volunteered since 2015. 
(JULIE JOCSAK/POSTMEDIA NETWORK)

Niagara Falls resident Pete Hetherington donated part of his liver to another local resident Sonya Carrie, who in turn donated $10,000 to Women's Place of South Niagara, the agency where Hetherington has volunteered since 2015. (JULIE JOCSAK/POSTMEDIA NETWORK)

The impact of one selfless act can have a positive ripple effect in unexpected ways.

Niagara Falls resident Pete Hetherington is an example, as his recent act of kindness inspired another local resident to pay it forward and donate $10,000 to Women’s Place of South Niagara.

In January, Hetherington, who is a Women’s Place volunteer, donated part of his liver to Sonya Carrie.

Carrie’s donation to Women’s Place was her way of paying it forward by supporting a cause Hetherington has been donating his time to since 2015.

Even before receiving a diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumours and carcinoid syndrome in March 2015, Carrie, now 22, was experiencing symptoms that impacted everything from her ability to work, study and travel.

When medication failed to give her relief, Carrie requested a referral to a doctor on the transplant team at Toronto General Hospital.

The team deemed Carrie to be a potential candidate and suggested she get on the liver donation waiting list.

While it was not guaranteed the transplant would relieve her symptoms, it was a risk Carrie said she was willing to take.

The alternative was remaining a prisoner in her own home and watching her health further decline.

She said her body started “hating everything” as it increasingly went into crisis, triggered by foods and other aspects of her environment.

Hetherington, 53, retired not long before Carrie put her name on the donor list.

Having the time to recover from surgery without having to take time off work, Hetherington revisited an idea that had sparked his interest more than 20 years earlier: becoming a live organ donor.

Around the same time, Hetherington’s church, Glengate Alliance, circulated information about Carrie’s search for a live liver donor.

Hetherington said he didn’t know Carrie before reading about her story in the church bulletin.

“I just read it and as soon as I finished reading it, I said, ‘that’s the girl, this is the one’ (he wanted to donate to).”

He contacted the University Health Network and after numerous tests, they decided he would be an appropriate match for the transplant.

With the transplant complete in January, Carrie’s body responded immediately.

“My symptoms were completely gone when I woke up from surgery,” she said.

“I was laughing. I was smiling. I was arguing like my old self. It’s a miracle. I am so thankful that Pete, my living donor, answered my prayers. He stepped in and saved me.”

Hetherington said as he has got to know Carrie, he’s become proud of her because of her positive attitude and dynamic personality.

“I get energized by Sonya because she’s just so embracing life,” he said.

“I just love talking to her and hearing what she’s doing.”

Carrie said when she was having health problems, people would always tell her things would eventually get better and to “just keep praying and just keep hoping for the best.”

“And I did, but I didn’t fully believe that anything would ever really come true or happen for me,” she said.

“When I finally got the news that somebody was going to help me and I got the phone call, I was just stunned — I don’t think I spoke for hours, I couldn’t believe it. And to know that it wasn’t even anybody that I had spoken to prior, it was somebody who was a total stranger to me, somebody who I had never met, loved me that much that they wanted to help me out, that they cared for me without even knowing me, and wanted to essentially give me a part of themselves so that I could continue living. There’s no words to describe that, what kind of a gift that is, and how much that means to me.”

In return, Carrie decided she wanted to help others.

By donating $10,000 of an inheritance from her grandfather — the balance of which is being held in trust until she is 25 — Carrie will be helping to give women and children across Niagara who are victims of domestic violence shelter, counselling and other services.

Carrie said in addition to the financial donation, she has filled out a form to volunteer her time at Women’s Place.

“I really do care about this place and what it does for women. I think it does a lot to get people back on their feet that might just be getting out of a difficult situation,” she said.

Jennifer McQuestion, who oversees the volunteer program at Women’s Place, described Hetherington as a “deeply religious person.”

“We often joke that if he doesn’t make it into heaven, we can’t figure out who might qualify,” she said.

“We are so lucky to have him advocating for Women’s Place and representing this agency. He has a deep interest in people and his community and just wants to help in any way he can. I can’t think of a more generous person.”

In addition to volunteering for Women’s Place, Hetherington has donated his time to other organizations at home and abroad, including distributing donations for Operation Christmas Child to children in Mexico, and returning many times to help at an orphanage in Haiti.

Ruthann Brown, executive director of Women’s Place, said it’s important to have engaged volunteers, especially now as the agency needs all the support it can get.

“The last provincial government budget had no new funding for violence against women shelters, and yet our capacity, our bed nights, is higher than ever before,” she said.

“The need is greater, and just like the same pressures that we’re feeling in our homes with hydro and food, those happen here as well, so anything that people can do is greatly appreciated.”

Brown said Women’s Place has more than 200 volunteers and this year has to raise $556,000 just to maintain the vital services it delivers.

“We couldn’t do the work that we do without the volunteers, as well as the fundraising.”

For more information about becoming a live organ donor, or how to help Women’s Place, visit uhn.ca/MOT and womensplacesn.org.

rspiteri@postmedia.com



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