Breath of Life


Delayed on the tarmac at Frankfurt Airport seemed like the perfect time to watch Breath of Life, a ten minute documentary about organ donation advocate Hélène Campbell.

Hélène is well known for her campaign, to raise awareness of the need for organ donors both before and after she received new lungs.

My connection to her family goes back for decades. Her grandmother and my mother met at a summer camp in, I think, 1938. Her aunt and I were in third grade together. And her family and my family started attending the same church in Ottawa at about the same time. I watched Hélène grow up.

So her health issues hit me in a very personal way. This wasn’t some person on the news, some human interest story tossed in before the commercial break. This was real life, someone I knew before she became someone in the news.

Hélène’s miracle has been extensively reported. She was literally minutes away from death when a set of lungs became available. I won’t go into the details here; you can look them up yourself.

You have to make choices in life, and I don’t question the filmmakers’ decisions. But there is so much more to be told than would fit into a ten-minute film. Other than one brief reference about Hélène being prepared to die because she was sure she would go to a better place, there wasn’t much said about the role of faith and prayer and God’s timing in her transplant.

It was a Thursday night when word came that Hélène’s health was deteriorating rapidly. There were those from the church who determined that they would be praying throughout the night for Hélène and her family.

The next morning was Friday, Good Friday, 2012. The lead story on the radio newscast was that Hélène was in surgery, a match had been found and she was getting new lungs.

The symbolism hit me like a sledgehammer. On a day when we remember how Jesus died for the sins of the world, to allow us humans a chance of life, someone’s death was providing Hélène with new life. Tears streamed down my face throughout the church service that morning.

And, as I recall it, they kept her in an induced coma after surgery and brought her out of it on Sunday, Easter. What a day for a resurrection.

All of that is not in the film. I wish it was, but I understand the restrictions. You can’t squeeze much into ten minutes. I remember though.

On this Good Friday, five years later, I will be thinking about Jesus’ death on the cross and what that meant for all of us. And I will be thinking about Hélène and the gift of life she received.


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