Sign up for life

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, May / June 2012

Arlene Wilgosh

Sometimes, it's the little things we do that can make a big difference. Just ask Kristin Millar.

I had the chance to meet this remarkable 28-year-old woman when she spoke at the launch of the province's new online organ and tissue donor registry last month.

Developed by Manitoba eHealth in consultation with Transplant Manitoba and Tissue Bank Manitoba, is designed to make it easier for people to become organ and tissue donors.

In doing so, it is hoped people like Kristin will benefit. Her heart gave out in November 2009, but doctors were able to outfit her with a portable ventricular assist device to keep her alive until a heart became available for transplant last January.

It was quite moving to listen to Kristin talk during the launch about her experience - the time she spent on the wait list and how happy she was when word came through that a heart had become available for her. I also had a chance to chat with Kristin's mom, Mary, who was also attending the launch for the new website. She told me that Kristin was truly one of the lucky ones because she was one of the first people in Manitoba to be provided with a ventricular assist device while waiting for a heart transplant. As you might expect, she was extremely grateful for everything that has been done for her daughter.

It was great to see them together, knowing all that they had been through and knowing that they were now able to look forward to a long and happy future. But I also couldn't help but wonder how many other Kristins are out there, waiting and hoping that they, too, will receive the gift of life. The answer, of course, is that there are too many.

The fact is there are more Manitobans who need organ transplants - whether it be heart, kidney, liver or lungs - than there are donors. As of this month, for example, there were 173 Manitobans needing a kidney transplant, four waiting for a heart transplant and a dozen more awaiting a lung transplant.

In some cases, such as with kidneys and liver, transplants can be facilitated through a live donor, such as a loved one, relative or friend. Other cases require a transplant from a deceased donor, and their numbers are not rising fast enough to keep pace with demand. On average, only six to 15 Manitobans become deceased donors in a given year. As our story on page 8 of this issue of Wave explains, Transplant Manitoba - Gift of Life hopes to increase the number to about 30 a year.

That's where the new online registry comes into play. In addition to making it easier for people to become organ donors, it is also designed to stimulate discussion about the importance of organ donation. The website contains all sorts of information about the subject, including a list of frequently asked questions. It also offers some important advice for anyone thinking about becoming an organ donor: talk over your decision with your family and make sure they understand your wishes. That's because even if you have declared your intention to become a donor, your family will still be consulted in the event of your death. As Dr. Brendan McCarthy, Medical Director for Transplant Manitoba - Gift of Life, says in our story, "Sharing that decision with your loved ones remains the most important step so they can give consent to donate on your behalf when you are not able to speak for yourself."

Early indications are that the website is a hit with the public. As our story points out, 1,022 Manitobans declared their intention to become an organ donor within eight hours of the website's launch. By the end of the first week, that number hit 3,800. And, as this issue of Wave was going to print, more than 5,000 people had registered their intentions online.

This outpouring of support is no small thing. Indeed, when you consider that each person has the potential to save seven lives through organ donation and enhance 75 or more through tissue donation, it is easy to see how a little thing like signing up to become a donor can make a very big difference.

As Dr. McCarthy says, "When you talk with someone needing a heart or kidney transplant, you can see how your selfless donation would help their life become better. When you're gone, nothing can bring you back. But your donation can bring life to a lot of other people."

Just ask Kristin Millar - or her mom.

Wave: May / June 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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