A Q&A with heart transplant survivor Maariyah Rahman

Ted Rogers School of Management Marketing student Maariyah Rahman talks about her recovery after having a heart transplant, her efforts to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation and how her experience and co-op placement helped her find her calling. 

How is your health now and how is your recovery going? 

I feel very healthy and my recovery is going well. I would say physically I am at 100%. Mentally, it took a little longer. I regularly saw a psychiatrist to help me deal with the trauma and all of the emotions that come after a transplant, especially since everything happened suddenly with me. My family has played a huge role in my recovery. I have so much support and love from family and friends, which make the bad days good and the good days even better.

Doing what I love such as travelling and going back to playing ice hockey has really helped too. I joined the Ryerson Intramural Hockey League. It was hard for me going back to playing hockey. Getting back on the ice for the first time made me realize how much muscle I had actually lost while being hospitalized. Although I didn’t perform as well as I used to, the team was still kind and supportive.

Getting back to a routine and to a “normal” was essential too. After going through rehab and having my appointments less frequently, I was able to complete a co-op term. Working at SickKids Foundation changed my life and was pivotal in my recovery. It made me realize that I am just as capable, if not more, than I was before. I also realized that despite what I went through in the hospital, falling behind a semester and feeling like I was at a disadvantage in life, I found that those experiences shaped me and made me work even harder and with more purpose.

What you have been doing this past year to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation?

To raise awareness about organ and tissue donation, I volunteer with the University Health Network (UHN) at Toronto General Hospital as a Patient Ambassador for their High School Outreach Initiative.  In this role, I accompany a health care professional to talk about transplantation, organ donation and my transplant journey to high school students. My transplant story has also received a lot of attention from the UHN, the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and even the Scarborough Mirror.

The Ryerson Gift of Life Project has now turned into MOTIONS – Multi-Organ Transplant Insight, Outreach and Networking Society. With MOTIONS, we have attended events and set up booths for people to register to become donors.  We had an event with UofT MOTIONS and have set up events throughout the year like Paint Night and a conference.

I also hosted a fundraiser gala to celebrate my one-year anniversary of having a heart transplant, or how us transplant patients like to call it, my “Heart-a-Versary.” My family and I sold about 400 tickets to the event and raised over $23,000 for the Soham & Shaila Ajmera Family Transplant Centre at Toronto General Hospital.

What has the reception been to your efforts and what impact do you think you’ve been making?

In trying to advocate for organ donation, I received so much support. The fact that my transplant story has been shared through so many outlets and so many people has been great. I have actually had quite a few people send me messages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter because they read about my story or heard about me through someone they know.

Most of these individuals have been people around my age who contacted me to share that they have been through similar situations – some with transplants, some just going through tough times in the hospital and some whose parent or family member is going through something similar and just need someone to talk to. It’s so touching to know that people are gaining strength from learning about what I went through.

For example, I met this girl who was hospitalized, and she found out she had lupus. She didn’t know that there was a serious problem until she went to the hospital. Her whole life was turned upside down and she was in the hospital for over two months. When I connected with her, we were both inspired by each other and it was nice to have a friend that could relate to some things you went through as well.

How did you become a Board Member of Youth Advocacy for the Canadian Transplant Association and what has your involvement been?

Ever since my transplant, I have been really motivated to get involved in the community that understood me better than anyone else. I was fairly fresh out of transplant when I came across a call for Executive Board Members for the Canadian Transplant Association (CTA). Although I thought I was not necessarily the most qualified person, I applied for the role of Marketing and Communications Director. I had my interview and the existing executive team that interviewed me were very impressed with my dedication and efforts in organ donation awareness – especially because I am relatively young.

The CTA called me back a few days later proposing the role of Youth Advocate, a position that was created to fit what I could offer. I accepted it and am now an Executive Board Member on the Canadian Transplant Association as the Youth Advocate and Marketing Associate. I am currently working on some social media campaigns, as well as working to get more involvement from young people in our Canadian Transplant Games, which is taking place this August. It’s sort of like the “Transplant Olympics.”

What are your plans for the future?

Before getting sick, I thought I was going to be in finance on the trade floor in capital markets. But after everything I went through, I realized it was not for me.

I did a co-op placement at SickKids Foundation throughout the fall semester and found my calling. Working at SickKids Foundation was one of the best things that has happened to me. Everyone was very kind, and I felt accepted and valued. I wasn’t looked at differently despite people knowing about my transplant. I was treated like a “normal” person. The culture there was amazing, and knowing that your work has such a great impact on others makes everything worth it. I realized that I would really like to work in the non-profit industry and be able to have a fulfilling job in the future.