“What am I supposed to do?” she said. “I can't afford to go live down south.”
O'Donnell had to quit a job she loved – working at a homeless shelter for youth – in 2008, a year after she was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the skin, but can also damage internal organs.
For O'Donnell, the disease led to constant bouts of pneumonia, which eventually scarred her lungs and left them with fibrosis.
Her husband works at Laurentian University as a custodian and she receives funds from the Ontario Disability Support Program to help pay the rent for their modest home.
If she is approved as a candidate for a double-lung transplant, O'Donnell will need to live within two hours of Toronto General Hospital, where the operation would be performed.
She said the rental costs she has looked at in Barrie, Hamilton and St. Catharines have been beyond her range.
To support her in southern Ontario, she said her husband would have to quit his job at Laurentian.
“It hurts that I would have to make him quit his job to come with me,” O'Donnell said. “And then he's going to have to take care of me.”
But Jaime Lafond, who received a double-lung transplant three years ago, said there are programs in place to support transplant patients who must travel to Toronto.
The Transplant Patient Expense Reimbursement program, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and administered by the Trillium Gift of Life Network, offers organ transplant patients up to $1,300 a month to help cover their living costs while they wait for their surgeries.
Lafond said she and her husband took advantage of the program to help them pay for a condominium in Toronto.
She had to wait three months for her surgery, and remained at the hospital for another three months while she recovered.
Lafond said there is also an apartment building across from the hospital, called Lu Cliff Place, that has apartments starting at the $1,300 a month range.
She said living near the hospital saves on travel and parking expenses.
Despite the challenges, O'Donnell said she will find a way to cover her expenses if she is called down to Toronto for a double-lung transplant.
“I have seven grandkids I want to see grow up,” she said. “I think of them and what it would be like for them not to have their grandmother.”