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Breathing New Life Through Organ Donation

November 23, 2014 10:30 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

According to Health Canada figures, in 2012, just over 2,000 Canadians received new organs through organ donation. Those transplants covered a fraction of the 4,500 Canadians currently on the waiting list. Sadly, in 2012, 256 Canadians died before they received a transplant.

Last month, after living with ongoing kidney failure for close to a decade, Neepawa-area resident Darryl Kulbacki received a new kidney. Kulbacki’s new kidney came from his sister Karla Hall. Had a donor not stepped forward, Kulbacki would have had to wait about five years for a new kidney. With kidney disease on the rise, 72 per cent of Canadians waiting for a new organ are waiting for a kidney.

Kulbacki is the second person in the Neepawa area to receive a new organ in the last 12 months. Last November, Chris Howe got the long awaited call that he would be receiving a new liver. In June 2011, the then 28-year old Howe was diagnosed with terminal liver disease and he waited two years for a liver to be available for him.

Last week, I talked to Hall and Kulbacki who are both back at home, recuperating after being discharged. Kulbacki shares sentiments similar to those experienced by other transplant recipients: their lives have been changed and they once again, feel alive.

Organ donation is no trivial matter, a deceased donor can save eight lives and with the addition of tissue donation, they can dramatically enhance the lives of 75 more people.

Organ transplants are a challenge, not only must donor, organ and recipient be co-ordinated, but they must also be matched. Depending on the organ or tissue, the match must be fairly exact in order for it to be successful. Donors must be in excellent health prior to donation and in the case of a deceased donor, they must be declared brain dead by two physicians. Despite the challenges associated with organ donation, modern surgical practices and anti-rejection medications have greatly improved the outcomes of organ donation. In Canada, nearly 98 per cent of all kidney transplants, 90 per cent of liver transplants and 85 per cent of heart transplants are successful. The success is heavily dependant upon the anti-rejection drugs that the recipient must take. Kulbacki, for example, must take his medication every 12 hours for as long as he has a donor kidney.

For some Canadians, like Kulbacki, donation can come from a living donor. The kidney or part of the liver, lung, small bowel or pancreas can all come from a living donor. A living donor can continue to lead a full life after donation. For kidney donation, there exists a Canada-wide cross matching program that allows someone who isn’t a match to their loved one to donate to a stranger. In turn, someone associated with that person donates to help your your loved one.

Organ donation is a personal decision and for many, it isn’t an option. For some, health conditions make them unsuitable donors, while for others, the circumstances aren’t right for donation to happen. Figures show that a person is six times more likely to need a transplant than to be a donor.

Seeing the new life that an organ transplant can bring to a recipient, I would encourage everyone to consider donation. For some, the final decision will still be that it isn’t for them, and that’s fine. But for others, they see the ability to bring new life to someone.

This spring, Manitoba’s online organ and tissue donor registry, SignUpForLife.ca, celebrated the over 10,000 Manitobans who had signed up to be organ and tissue donors. That’s cause for celebration, but it’s a long way off the province’s population of 1,272,000 residents.