To those who know me on a personal level and those who read this blog on a regular basis,
You understand that I normally write and post about happy events and occurrences, humanitarian affairs and at times a touch of the absurd. But I’m at a loss right now to continue with my normal pattern without first telling you about another important recent loss in my life and that of many others.
One week ago today I said a tearful goodbye to my longtime dear friend my bestie Colleen Kohse.
She passed away the week before. And even though I saw her just before leaving for California and spoke to her over the phone every other day while away, it just doesn’t seem real. Or fair. And yet, she suffered off and on from a life threatening illness her whole life. She had cystic fibrosis (CF) and was coming up to her 30 year anniversary of a double lung and heart transplant. I met her before her transplants. Even so, she remained one of the most optimistic, generous, fun, witty and voted friend most likely to….(fill in the blanks). If she was your friend you were lucky.
She lived by the motto you may not feel great, but always look great! And being one of my most fashionable friends, she did.
I traveled to more places with Colleen over the years than any other friend. When I had to make a last minute decision about a deal trip to Hawaii she was the first person I called. She said “yes” without hesitation. When my husband had business in Jamaica she stayed with us in Negril for almost a month. One day we accompanied him to one of his outings close to the Appleton Rum factory. We asked him to drop us off. He came back later to pick us up only to find us dancing around after having sampled a bunch. While in Jamaica we flew to Havana where Colleen taught me how to smoke a cigar in a local restaurant. Once! The thing is Colleen never really smoked, she just knew how. We were just havana good time. Basically she could do practically anything. I relied on her for many things. Especially driving. She said she was hoping I could at least navigate but realized she’d have to do that too.
We visited a friend in Savannah, Georgia and went on a scary nighttime ghost story pub crawl. Then off to Charleston, S.C. Another time to New Orleans where we took a cooking class, a joint birthday cruise with another friend out of Miami to Cayman Islands where we swam and fed tons of manta ray and then a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. Key West, Disney World, Palm Springs, Santa Barbra, Malibu, Paso Robles and San Francisco followed. I might be missing a few. Colleen was a Foodie and an Art History major. We went to the J. Paul Getty museum in Los Angeles where she impressed upon us her knowledge of Greek and Roman Art.
I was looking forward to many more adventures.
Colleen was one of the longest CF survivors in the world and a true inspiration for those battling the disease and their families. But the limitations of CF did not hold her back and I can definitely attest to that. Her life may have been challenging but she found deep fulfillment through her many contributions towards the fight against both CF and Kidney Disease, in support of Organ Donation and as a role model and friend for other patients with similar health issues. She accompanied me to Vancouver Hospice just last year to inquire about end of life full time care for my late husband Don. Don adored Colleen and she was a huge support during that time to both of us and for me after he passed. As they say, life goes on….but it will never be the same.
A little bit of history taken from the obituary posted in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun Newspaper:
Colleen Kohse was the embodiment of a true fighter and in 1988 she made a bold move. With her mother as support, and her friend and CF co-patient Brandy, she travelled to England in hopes of a life-saving heart-lung transplant. Transplant medicine was still in its infancy and survival or recovery was by no means certain, recovery would mean a lifetime of evolving anti-rejection drugs and many physical limitations. Failure however, meant never coming home. Fortunately, her transplant was a success and after almost a year of recovery and loving care by her mother she was able to return to Canada. Sadly, her friend Brandy did not survive her transplant recovery period.
Colleen gave her heart away, literally! As part of her miraculous heart-lung transplant process her own heart was transplanted into another patient. That unknown patient received the heart of a lion! A decade later Colleen once again received another transplant, this time a life-saving kidney. Colleen was always grateful to those good people who signed organ donation cards and donated organs.
Colleen became the longest living heart-lung transplant patient in Canada, if not the world, and she used wisely the 30 extra years her transplants gave her. She mentored, befriended and supported many others with CF, particularly those needing possible transplants. She helped organize the annual CF Foundation Gala to raise funds and awareness and being the gregarious outgoing person that she was brought many supporters into the cause.
One of her more remarkable talents was the ability to synthesize knowledge of medicines and treatments for transplantation, organ rejection, diet and related drug reactions into a body of medical understanding about CF patients she was able to use to prolong her own life and well as those of many others.
Colleen loved travel with friends and family. A recent trip to Italy and France turned into a culinary delight punctuated with an over abundance of ancient churches, museums and art galleries. The trip was one of her and her family’s fondest memories.
On behalf of Colleen and her family we thank the wonderful medical professionals who contributed so much care to Colleen’s life.
They ask that you kindly consider organ donation.