DECEMBER 26–Boston Globe Tribute to Caitlin

Deep thanks to Bryan Marquard and The Boston Globe for writing this beautiful tribute to Caitlin, and publishing it on the front page today: Caitlin O’Hara, who brought compassion to others while she sought a transplant, dies at 33

Caitlin’s death was ultimately caused by her too-long wait. The surgery itself was technically easier than the surgeons had anticipated. That part had gone very well. Her problems were all caused by having been on life support for too long. If she had received those perfect lungs earlier, there would only have been a happy story to tell.

One of the most important lessons that can come out of this tragedy is how vital is the need for organ donor awareness. In lieu of any flowers or gifts to us, please register today to be an organ, tissue, and cornea donor. (The DMV “organ donor” sticker is not enough.) And please help to dispel the wrongheaded myths about donation. Organ allocation is one of the most tightly-regulated and ethical institutions in the country. Register as an organ donor

Lake Erie, with Andrew, 2015

DECEMBER 23–Remedies for LOVE

We came home yesterday. Our wonderfully kind friend Jimmy C sent his plane for us in Pittsburgh, and Oh my God!—it made for an easy, stress-free transfer, and we couldn’t be more grateful. To just get driven to the airstrip, board the plane, kind pilots, up we go, 50 minutes: home.


My wonderful sister Kate and her husband Phil were waiting at our house, heat on, food cooking. Over the day, my dear brothers arrived, and friends arrived, and friends have continued to arrive. Jess flew in from San Francisco today and will stay with us until she has to go back for her next treatment. Katie (Caitlin’s almost-sister) came down from New Hampshire. Jacqui, Kenley, Alyssa, Liz—-some of Caitlin’s closest friends are here right now, gathered with other friends and all my family, downstairs, as I write, and it’s wonderful.

We need people around us. Caitlin knew this. We need each other. Being alone is horrible. This past week, anytime I’ve been alone it’s been unbearable, makes me want to jump out of my body. But having people around helps so much. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva is one that I think is so smart, and I’m realizing that what’s happening right now, downstairs, is kind of a combination of sitting shiva and a good old Irish wake. I can’t always interact with all of them, but I’m grateful they are here, and I love hearing the talking/laughing/crying sounds they make.

In Pittsburgh, our condo building didn’t allow live greenery. Caitlin had always wanted a fake white tree with colored lights, so last winter we bought one. This year, we put it up right before she went into the hospital on November 16, and kept it lit as a vigil. We decided to pack it up and bring it home, and I’m so glad we did. From now on, it will be our Christmas tree. Caitlin’s tree.

IMG_4157.JPGWe are grateful that Caitlin’s story is traveling so far and wide. The comments from friends and strangers have heartened us, unbelievably so! To all of you who have written,

“You don’t know me..”

“You haven’t met me, but..”

“I hope you don’t mind ..”

Please please know: we love all of your comments. We love knowing that Caitlin’s short life has made a difference to so many people. It’s the most wonderful thing.

We are also so grateful that the Boston-area media wants to celebrate her life and pass on a) the message of the importance of organ donation, b) the need to change the regional lung allocation system, and c) the need for a new healing garden in Caitlin’s honor, to replace her beloved Prouty Garden. I  spent over an hour on the phone today, talking to the Boston Globe‘s Bryan Marquard, who is going to write a beautiful feature about Caitlin. He then spent another another hour talking with Andrew and Jess.  Bill Shaner and photographer Art Illman of the Metrowest News spent an hour here at our home today, talking with us about the importance of Caitlin’s story. The Boston Herald also wrote a truly lovely piece today, written by Chris Villani. The  photo they chose to use is from this past Mother’s Day and it both breaks my heart and fills it to bursting.   (Herald story)

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 6.19.21 PM.png
This beautifully-lit face! Mother’s Day, 2016

I’m going to keep writing these posts, for as long as I need to. They help me, and I know they are helping the people who loved Caitlin. It’s funny—-I’m a writer but all these years, I  never ever EVER wanted to write about Caitlin’s medical struggles—I felt we had lived them once and once was enough and I didn’t want to dwell inside them. I wanted us all to move on and LIVE. But this is different. These posts are keeping her alive.

We are probably going to have a private service next week, and then a very public memorial and celebration of Caitlin’s life at a later date. I’m not sure where or when—I’m a little wary of planning something during a New England winter. But I will announce it here and we want everyone who wants to come to please come.  (We just can’t do the typical wake and funeral. Standing in a sterile room with a coffin, a receiving line–it doesn’t work for us, and it was something Caitlin would not have wanted, either.)

At one point, Caitlin considered doing a masters in philosophy. She got too sick to really pursue that, but she read deeply, and was only interested in reading good, complicated things. She had no time for crap writing, junk reading, beach reads. No time. I loved that about her, loved that she got so into Virginia Woolf in high school—that she GOT Virginia Woolf at such a young age.

In the hospital, I read aloud to her from Mary Oliver’s new book of essays, Upstream.  We started when she was on the medical floor and fully ‘normal,’ and then continued in the ICU when she was in and out of consciousness. In the ICU, her blood pressure always went up when I read (a good thing on ECMO!) and we joked that she was was liking the Mary Oliver. MO talks about Emerson and Thoreau in some of these essays. They were old soul writers whom Caitlin loved. This little dish was a gift from her, and always sits on my bedside table. Remember the message, friends. It is Thoreau’s message, and it is Caitlin’s message.





JUNE 29–The Update


I’ve been trying to write an update, with great difficulty. A lot has changed; nothing has changed—still waiting—and all the national emotion of the past week left me feeling oddly subdued, not ready to talk about our own issues.  But here we go–

One crappy new thing has afflicted Caitlin.  She has been unusually hoarse since having a virus in February, and has lost some of her range in her voice. Although she’s experienced laryngitis all her life following colds, she knew this was something different. She visited a voice specialist last week and found out what she suspected:  that one of her vocal folds is paralyzed.  Both folds (or chords) must meet to properly produce sound or to effectively cough; when one isn’t moving, this can’t happen.  There are temporary fixes (injections similar to getting cortisone shots) which she might undergo before transplant for some relief, (but probably not, since she tries to avoid unnecessary procedures).  She will have to have the injection soon after transplant anyway — the vocal chords need to be working properly to protect the new lungs — and eventually will have to have the minor but permanent surgery of having the vocal chord enhanced by a permanent procedure.  She sounds like she has laryngitis, and she has to speak in a higher register than normal, making it difficult for her to be heard, talk on the phone, etc. Overall, it’s frustrating.  The permanent surgery won’t happen till months after transplant, so … that’s another thing our Kitten didn’t need, but which she is dealing with with her usual grace.

Her singing career, now stalled.
Her singing career, now stalled.

The happier news is: we’ve moved! The move has been of tremendous benefit for me and my mental health, and Caitlin really loves the fact that she has more freedom, comfort, and privacy. We’ve a little balcony, and my sister and I fixed it up with a tree and plants, first thing. That little balcony is our summer vacation this year! And not a bad vacation. Pittsburgh is famous for being fireworks-crazy, and it’s home to the famous Zambelli Fireworks. We could always hear them in the old apartment. Now we can see them.  We feel very lucky.

Pittsy's Balcony
Pittsy’s Balcony

And I have a real built-in desk! So no more taking over the dining table. And here’s one thing I’m very very proud of:  Last year, on July 1, I vowed to set a timer and write for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. I knew that no matter how busy the day was, I could always squeeze in 30 minutes. I also knew that it would be easy to *not* write during this time of waiting, and that I would end up feeling really bad about myself if I went months without producing anything. I can announce that as I approach July 1, I have not missed a single day AND I’ve managed to eke out a very ugly draft. (But ugly drafts are beautiful, as my writing buddy Barbara says.)

Henry thinks it's ugly, too.
Henry thinks it’s ugly, too.

Many know that Caitlin has been a big part of a tireless effort to save the beloved Prouty Garden at Children’s Hospital Boston. She hated having to miss the gentle protest last week. But now, at a very late hour, the group has the opportunity to work with an environmental law firm that is enthusiastic and hopeful about saving the Garden.  Caitlin spent the weekend working with her group as they decided to go for it. They got a GoFundMe account going yesterday, and the group has already made great gains in raising money for the necessary legal fees. I’ve been so proud of her these past months, watching her work so doggedly at this, even at times when she’s been at her weakest.

Donations are so welcome! I can promise you that there’s not much more of a better cause than saving this garden that pretty much saved *us* during the darkest days of her childhood.

Save the Prouty Garden!
Save the Prouty Garden!

Lastly, a small eulogy. Everyone knows how much we love St. John. The highlight of our trips are always our days on the water, zipping around the BVIs. Over the past decade, we always went with our favorite captain—the vivacious, enthusiastic, safe, and professional Captain John Brandi. John and his wife Sue had long dreamed of retiring to St. John, and they worked their asses off to be able to realize that happy dream. They moved down from Marblehead in 2005 and launched Palm Tree Boat Charters. Canceling “boat day” was without a doubt the most depressing part of canceling our annual trip two winters ago, when Caitlin first got sick. And then late last year, a startling post appeared on our Facebook feeds: a sudden announcement, by John, that “due to health issues,” he was selling his beloved boat.

It turned out that back pain that had been niggling at him all year was actually cancer; the world lost him last week. The outpouring of sorrow on St. John has been both wonderful to see and terribly heartbreaking. Everyone loved him, and of course, everyone’s memories of him are wrapped in their own memories of happy, happy days. As I’ve cried for him, I know I’ve also been crying for myself. Some days are just well and truly over, and there’s nothing to be done about that, except to say “onward,” and make these new days the best they can be.

Godspeed, Captain Brandi.

Captain Brandi
Captain Brandi, photo by Krista Volk



To follow our blog, just click +Follow, down to the right, and enter your email address to be alerted to new posts.

JANUARY 31–Small Potatoes in the World of Miracles


Caitlin here,

As you may know, I’ve been gracing your Facebook news feeds here and there with posts about my efforts to save the Prouty Garden at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Tom Farragher wrote a great column in today’s Boston Globe, bringing more, much-needed public awareness to the issue.  It’s a little awkward to see my name in dramatic print like this, but it;s an important issue. Many who care about the Prouty Garden are fighting illness and challenges that do not abate; they may not have the time or energy to speak up. This is not a situation that will simply resolve because people care—hospital boards are powerful entities. I urge people to please comment on the Globe article, and email to get involved.

To the thousands of doctors and patients who have gained sustenance from this natural garden, with its tall trees, birds, rabbits, and grassy lawn, this is akin to building over the Public Garden or Boston Common and replacing it with “parklets” all over the city—can you imagine?  Except now imagine further, that those parklets are not just enjoyable spots, where you take a little stroll or sit and read a book, but places where you must spend some of your most vital life moments—relearning how to live, or wondering if you won’t.

Since this is my blog I will be more candid here.  Look—we are talking about a building.  Construction, architecture.  Here is a hospital that claims to and does perform miracles on the daily– making the impossible happen.  I am not lacking in understanding of the need for clinical advances — I am waiting for a procedure that, each day I think about, “How will it be possible that they will put someone else’s organs into my body?”  I am in awe of, and grateful, for the miracle of science that I am waiting for.  Perhaps because I know what feats are possible in a seemingly impossible situation like mine, I know that finding another space for this clinical building is small potatoes in the world of miracles.  It comes down to a desire by the board, and money.  Previous boards were surely tempted by the space of the garden, in their plans for expansion over the years, and they resisted.