Maxine Wagar-Canning never expected to live this long.
The Englee native was born 58 years ago with a hole in her heart that led to other health complications with her lungs as she got older.
But 25 years have passed since a heart-double lung transplant gave Wagar-Canning a new lease on life.
This month, she travelled home from her current residence in Fort MacMurray and on Aug.19 joined about 40 family members and friends who convened at the Englee fire hall to celebrate those years.
For Wagar-Canning, it was an emotional occasion.
Her sister, Kay Giancola visited from Ontario, while her childhood friend, Cindy Carew, travelled home from Marystown to spend the day.
Wagar-Canning was surprised to see them.
“It was emotional, especially when my sister got up there and started talking,” she told The Northern Pen. “It was just about celebrating life and being blessed.”
Wagar-Canning also promoted being an organ donor, providing sign-up sheets to anyone who wished to take the step.
She stressed the importance of discussing organ donation with family, since they make the decision after the donor's death.
It was on August 18, 1994, in Vancouver, B.C. that Wagar-Canning had the life-changing procedure.
She knew little about the person who donated the heart and lungs. The person had been in a car accident and declared brain dead.
The donor had been in very good health and all the organs were in very good condition.
The doctors told Wagar-Canning the heart was nearly a perfect match.
There were some complications with the surgery, however, and there was a six-week recovery for Wagar-Canning.
The odds of long-term survival were not high.
According to a 1995 Northern Pen article documenting her recovery, researchers at that time stated seven of 10 people receiving transplants survive the first year and five of those seven live up to five years.
After five years, the survival rate was poor.
Yet Wagar-Canning is here today celebrating 25 years later.
Family and faith
Wagar-Canning says her faith in God plays a big role in her recovery.
“God is a big part of my life and the prayers of my church and family are a big part, too,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have had what it took to fight through it, because the transplant itself was very hard.”
Nevertheless, Wagar-Canning has experienced her share of tragedy. Before her operation, in January 1993, her first husband died of cancer.
She says her physical condition worsened after his death, leading to her operation.
She remarried in 1999. However, her second husband also died of cancer three years ago.
Wagar-Canning said with her condition, she never expected to outlive two husbands.
But her family was by her side through everything and kept her motivated.
When she had the transplant, her mother and father travelled to British Columbia to stay with her for about 15 months.
She also stayed at her brother’s home in Vancouver, while awaiting the surgery. He and his wife helped take care of her then eight-year-old daughter, Jasmine, while she was in the hospital.
Wagar-Canning says her daughter also gave her incentive not to give up.
“She had just lost her dad and she was incentive to just not give up,” she said.
Wagar-Canning worked part time for a number of years in Fort MacMurray, until the 2016 fire.
She said she was never able to work full time because of the limitations of her health condition.
She also volunteers at the church daycare program and enjoys spending time with family – which includes her daughter Jasmine, two stepchildren and now 10 grandchildren – and friends.
Wagar-Canning also makes sure she gets home to Englee every year to visit her parents, Douglas and Jane Ellsworth.