Check the box
Although the majority of Canadians support the idea of organ and tissue donation, few are filling out the required documentation and making plans to donate.
According to the Canadian Transplant Society, 90 per cent of Canadians support donation but less than 20 per cent will register to become a donor. This has resulted in a shortage of organs and tissues.
Each year approximately 1,600 Canadians are added to organ wait lists across the country. One donor can benefit more than 75 individuals and can save up to eight lives.
One of those eight lives is Aubrey Goldstein, a retired medical doctor and reviewer of clinical trials for transplant medication at Health Canada in Ottawa.
In 1998, he received a full liver transplant from a deceased woman after his was damaged by a disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis.
“I had been sick for 18 years prior to receiving the transplant and went 13 years during this time without a confirmed diagnosis,” said Goldstein. “After being diagnosed with two other immune deficiencies they were able to make a diagnosis.”
During his move from Windsor to Ottawa he went to see a doctor after being diagnosed with another illness. He was presented with an undesired option for treatment.
“I had researched every possibility… He told me the option was a liver transplant. At the time this surgery was still not as successful,” said Goldstein, who had his surgery six years after the diagnosis.
He said the technologies have become safer and it is easier to transport some organs than it used to be. Previously, transplanted organs were more open to rejection because the medications to prevent the immune system from attacking the new organ were not as effective.
According to the Canadian Organ Replacement Register, in 2014 the two most common organ transplants were kidney and liver.
“It was a scary thought at first, but you are also fighting for your life,” said Sandra Holdsworth,who received a full liver transplant 20 years ago.
Holdsworth is a member of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program who has seen the advancements in the field of transplants and advocates for donor registration.
She said recipients may need multiple transplants of the same organ.
“Recurrent diseases or kidney problems related to transplant medication and other complications leading to other medical issues can result in the recipient needing multiple transplants,” said Holdsworth.
Goldstein said people have misconceptions about what donating really means and what giving their consent will entail, which is one of the reasons people may not fill out their card. He said the forms are designed so people can select what they are willing to donate, whether to designate their body for science or to have their organs go directly to a recipient.
Those whose bodies are donated to science are used to find cures and treatments for diseases. The bodies who often are unable to donate to a recipient directly.
Before getting the transplant, Chausse was severely sick. He would not be here today without it.
Chausse said he was very fortunate the doctors were able to find a match. Due to his weight and height at the time being lower than what it needed to be, it was hard to find a liver that would fit his body. The first two available livers were not a match but the third liver was compatible. He said the more donors available, the more chances cases like his have the ability to find matches.
“It’s near and dear to my heart – well, to the right and down a bit,”said Chausse.
Shelby Schmidt is a St. Clair College student who has been registered as a donor since receiving her beginners license. She always had an interest in donation with the belief it could help those who received them.
“My only hesitation before I filled out the form was if the possible donation of my organs would affect my family being able to have a funeral for me,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt said she has even considered being a liver donor to someone who may need a kidney or a partial liver transplant.
Goldstein said individuals should start the conversation with their families about their choice to donate. He also said becoming a donor gives the recipient a second chance to live a longer fuller life.
“There is no real reason people can’t donate or register to donate,” said Goldstein. “It’s the ultimate gift someone can give.”