by JULIE HA
These days Falling Skies actress Moon Bloodgood is thinking a great deal about the gift of life, and is hoping you might think about it, too. She just released a YouTube video that encourages viewers to consider organ donation, a topic she admittedly knows isn’t one anyone likes to talk about. However, she also knows the sad reality that there are very sick people in the world who need life-saving organ transplants—and some of them are very young children, like 16-month-old Olive Kang.
Olive is the daughter of Bloodgood’s cousin Johnny Kang and his wife Robin, of Orange County, Calif. Adorable, feisty and unable to resist dancing when she hears “All About That Bass” playing, Olive is in desperate need of a heart and lung transplant.
When she was just two days old, she was diagnosed with an extremely rare congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia and major aortopulmonary collateral arteries (TOF/PA/MAPCAs). She has been in and out of hospitals for a good portion of her young life, hooked up to breathing machines and undergoing medical procedures to dilate her rapidly closing pulmonary veins.
Doctors have exhausted all other options, and her only hope right now is a heart and lung transplant.
“Nobody wants to talk about organ donation—it’s gruesome, it’s terrifying,” said Bloodgood, speaking to KoreAm by phone. “It’s not something we want to even think about. At the same time, this child is dying, and other children are dying, so we have to talk about it.
“Donating an organ can save someone’s life,” Bloodgood continued. “You don’t want to have someone’s loved one pass—that’s the last thing we’d wish for a family. But if circumstances are such that a life is passing and the organ can be given to someone and save that person’s life, you’re continuing life. That is a great gift.”
Watching Johnny and Robin Kang, with whom the actress is very close, struggling every day with the prospect of losing their child has been heartbreaking, said Bloodgood, who also has a daughter, 2-year-old Pepper. “A sick child in the world is something you never want to believe exists,” said Bloodgood. “It’s cruel and unfair, and takes you to a dark place.”
But that’s why she’s urging people also to see the tremendous light and hope that organ donation can offer to these families. “I understand people’s apprehension about it and don’t judge anyone for not being a donor. But if you’re comfortable being one, please save a life. I am one.”
Olive has been on the transplant list since last April. She is the youngest child on the heart and lung transplant list at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, where the procedure would be performed should a match be found. It is only one of only a handful of medical centers in the country that do pediatric heart and lung transplant. In order to make sure they are closeby should a match be found, Robin relocated herself and Olive to northern California, while Johnny and their elder son Riley stayed behind in Orange County.
But, while Olive, currently at the hospital after getting an infection, is listed at the highest, most critical status on the organ transplant list, her family knows their loved one’s situation is quite desperate and urgent.
Robin told KoreAm by phone last Thursday that Olive struggles with her breathing. “There’s always a worry that she’ll go into cardiac arrest,” she said.
“I don’t think she has much time,” the mother added, breaking down crying.
Last year Olive developed a blockage in her pulmonary veins, a condition that prevented her from getting a planned surgery called unifocalization that could have helped her condition. Her family said doctors told them she has only two pulmonary veins left, but they are closing fast. While doctors were dilating those veins for a while, they would close up at a faster rate, and it became too risky to keep doing the procedure, said Robin.
Olive’s mother admits she never before thought that much about organ donation or how important it is, until her own child was born with a heart defect that required a transplant. What’s even more difficult in Olive’s case is that she would need a heart and lung from a child—from the same child—because the donor would have to be roughly around the same weight and height, in addition to the same blood type as well as other transplant considerations for a match.
“Making that kind of decision is extremely hard,” Robin said, acknowledging it would be parents who have lost their own precious child that would be making a transplant even possible for Olive. “But it can give someone a chance to live and thrive. That in itself is a heroic action on their part.
“No one really thinks about children … needing a heart and all kinds of organs so they can live,” she added. “Sure, as adults, you sign up at DMV, but for children, people don’t really think about that. I just want to bring awareness, so that a child like Olive can have a chance at life. If somebody feels compelled to donate their organs to Olive, great, awesome. But there’s also an overarching message just to get people thinking about organ donation. … Even if Olive doesn’t get her transplant, if we get people starting to think about donating, sharing organs, whether living or deceased, that would be amazing. That would be amazing.”
To learn more about organ, blood and tissue donation, visit OrganDonor.gov.
Photos courtesy of the Kang Family