People from all over South Africa celebrated the life of a 20-year-old activist who died on Monday from health complications. This young woman stole many hearts when she initiated a social media campaign to inspire more people to become organ donors.
Jenna Lowe, a young woman from Cape Town, was this week hailed as “inspiring” and a “crusader” after the news broke that she had taken her last breathe on Monday, 8 June.
The 20-year-old became a social media hit following her invitation to the public to her 21st birthday. Anyone could attend the party, she had said, but only if they signed up to become organ donors.
Jenna Lowe was diagnosed with a life threatening lung disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) when she was 17 years old. In an effort to get a set of new lungs and help others who also needed organs, Lowe said in the video, You are invited to Jenna’s 21st birthday party, that she was already planning her 21st party.
She invited everyone who was watching the video. “Now that might seem a little odd, because I probably don’t know you.
“I would like you to come anyway. I don’t care what shape, size, colour or age you are. I want you to be there with me. And I want you to bring your friends,” she said. “Because the more people there are and the more people sign up now, the more likely it is that I will be able to join you.
“All you really have to do to come to my party is to sign up to be an organ donor.”
More than 5 300 people have signed up as donors on Lowe’s blog. Her 21st birthday would have been on 28 October this year.
South Africa was introduced to Lowe’s Get Me to 21 campaign when she was 19 years old. On hearing news of her death this week, many people on social media used words like “heartbreaking” and “sad”. The hashtag #RIPJennaLowe and this young activist’s name trended on Twitter yesterday, the day after her death, with people sending condolences to her grieving family:
— KFM (@KFMza) June 8, 2015
— Ajax Cape Town (@ajaxcapetown) June 9, 2015
— Skye Grove (@SkyeGrove) June 9, 2015
— GisèleWertheimAymés(@giselewaymes) June 8, 2015
Educating people about PAH
“Pulmonary arteries carry blood from your heart to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen to be delivered throughout your body. In PAH, the pulmonary arteries constrict abnormally. This forces your heart to work faster and causes blood pressure within the lungs to rise,” explains the American Lung Association.
“PAH worsens over time and is life-threatening because the pressure in a patient’s pulmonary arteries rises to dangerously high levels, putting a strain on the heart. There is no cure for PAH, but several medications are available to treat symptoms.”
Besides campaigning on her blog Get Me to 21, Twitter and Facebook, Lowe started the Jenna Lowe Trust to educate people about her condition. In an interview with the local television series, Hello Doctor, she said she aimed to assist sufferers of PAH by getting them an early diagnosis and the treatment they needed
“There is very little experience in South Africa with this disease and very limited ideas around the medication and treatment. And also around the diagnosis,” she said. “For me, it’s really important that people [don’t] suffer like I did in terms of extended diagnosis.”
One person has already been diagnosed as a result of the campaign. Lowe said it would be incredible if she could help more people.
Breathing normally for the first time
In December 2014, online news portal The South African reported that Lowe had found a donor match. On her Facebook page, she wrote: “On the 10th of December 2014 I received a bilateral lung transplant which saved my life. I love my new lungs.”
On 27 February this year, Jenna posted an update on Twitter about her well-being. In a blog entry, she said she was eating, breathing and even walking slowly. “Very soon I’ll be able to leave this ward. I’ll be nursed by my parents at our temporary home, and come in often for treatment.
“I have been off oxygen for five whole days. It’s been two years since I last breathed without that tube trailing me. To be free of the plastic across my face and the hissing in my ears, to not be tethered to a machine – it’s the most incredible feeling!”
Well wishes have been streaming in for Lowe – who is often called inspiring and courageous by her followers – on social media:
Gone to soon #Jennalowe – but your legacy will live on in the lives of so many who’ll benefit from your life-giving campaign. Thank you.
— Michael Mol(@DrMichaelMol) June 9, 2015
— MarlinéeFouché(@marlineefouche) June 10, 2015
Kristi Lowe, Jenna’s sister, posted this photo of them on her Facebook page on Tuesday morning. (Image: Screen grab via Facebook)
Lowe’s father, Stuart, told online news portal IOL that his family and he remained “completely committed” to the campaign and to organ donation.
“We remain inspired not only by what she did but how she did it, from her bed not being able to breathe properly. Through it all, she remained incredibly graceful. Her will to live kept us going.”
Stuart Lowe said his family would always remain grateful to the family of the donor whose lungs were transplanted to Jenna. “They also lost somebody. They are in our thoughts as well, again now, because Jenna’s death is also relevant to them.”
People who were inspired by Jenna’s life should sign up as donors and get friends to sign up as donors, he implored. “Jenna was indirectly responsible for drawing more than 20 000 people to the cause. We remain inspired by her life.”
Gabi Lowe shares on how her daughter, Jenna influenced people’s lives:
According to the Organ Donor Foundation, one organ donor can save seven people’s lives. More information is available on its website.
Samantha Nichols, the executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation, said that between October 2014 and March this year, when Lowe’s campaign was at its peak, 17 476 people registered as organ donors, compared to 7 773 during the corresponding period a year before and 9 599 two years before.
Messages of condolences continued to stream in this Tuesday morning:
Radio station Cape Talk also paid tribute to the young activist: