Shelburne man embraces gift of life, promotes organ donation

SHELBURNE When Ray Wright woke up in a Massachusetts hospital after receiving a life-saving liver transplant, he knew that his time must be spent reaching out to grab the brass ring. Wright, 63, suffered from progressive liver disease for roughly 15 years. The struggle left him weak, with doctors concerned about his prognosis. Wright was placed on a waiting list for a new liver for over two years. Doctors had told him they were uncertain about what caused his liver problems, but added that there was a possibility the problems could be linked to his job working with refrigeration and air conditioning. His symptoms included fatigue and bloating. As his health declined, Wright worried about his future when a phone call on Christmas Eve 2000 told him that a new liver was available. Wright travelled to Boston, and checked into New England Medical Center for the nine-and-a-half hour operation, which was completed on Christmas Day. Hospitalized for 14 days, Wright noted he checked back into the hospital about a week after he returned home because of fluid build-up. At first, Wright, who is married and has two adult children, knew very little about the organ donor who saved his life. The little he did glean centered on that one family's tragedy had given him a new chance at life. "I found out about the donor six months after the operation," recalled Wright. "I got a letter from the hospital, saying that the donor's family wanted to get in touch." Admittedly, Wright was nervous about the meeting, so he asked a colleague, Jim Carter, and Carter's wife to come with him to the meeting. Initially, Wright thought the get-together would last around an hour, but soon stretched to three to four hours. The meeting, which took place in Deerfield, Mass., provided a vivid sketch about the donor, who was a 17-year-old boy killed in a car accident shortly after he returned home during Christmas vacation. As Wright spoke with the boy's parents, he found that the young man was one of four children from a close-knit Connecticut family and that his parents were wrought with grief. Since then, Wright has stayed in touch with the young mans family. "The family sent me a beautiful wreath for the holidays. I just don't have words to describe the meeting. It was very emotional." A Shelburne resident for 40 years, Wright said his health is "good, but added that he takes a total of 20 medications daily and must visit the doctor once every two months. Now, more than six years after the operation, Wright actively promotes organ donation, travelling with Carter to Vermont high schools, and speaking about the importance of telling others about the decision to check off the donation box on the back of a driver's license. "It's made me appreciate life," said Wright. "I have a new take on life."

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