Important to discuss organ donation, says co-ordinator
A full life
Winter was placed on the transplant list on Christmas Eve.
A heart became available less than two weeks later. The transplant took place on Jan. 4, 2008.
Winter remained in hospital about three weeks after the surgery and in the Toronto area for several months. With time he began to feel better. He now lives life to the fullest and works as a heavy equipment mechanic at Gander International Airport.
He’ll continue to take anti-rejection drugs his entire life, but that’s a small price to pay for having his life back.
He’ll tell his story whenever asked, he says, as a way to encourage others to become organ donors.
Delphine Anstey of Twillingate is also willing to share her family’s story to encourage others to donate organs.
In October 2004, Anstey’s granddaughter Julia Anstey received a portion of a liver that the family say saved her life. Julia was 10 years old at the time of the transplant.
Her donor, Christine Smith, who Julia now calls her “liver sister,” heard that Julia needed a new liver and offered her part of her own.
Julia says there are no words to thank someone for such a gift.
“I don’t know what I would have done without her. I wakes up every day saying, ‘Thank God I’m still alive,’” the 18-year-old says.
Anstey echoes her granddaughter’s gratitude towards Smith. It was devastating when they learned that nobody in Julia’s family was a match as a donor, she says.
Without Smith, she says, she doesn’t believe her granddaughter would have survived.
“I don’t think anyone can truly understand why someone would do this for someone not related. It’s a complete act of unselfishness,” Anstey says.
Smith is originally from Twillingate, but recently moved to Grand Falls-Windsor. She was living in her home community when she heard that Julia was very sick.
When Smith found out that she and Julia shared the same rare blood type (O-negative) she immediately offered to be the donor, and says she has never looked back.
While recovery from the surgery was painful, Smith says, there’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve likely saved a life.
“If I never do anything else in my life, I know I’ve done something good,” she says.
A growing list
Sandra White, program coordinator for the province’s Organ Procurement and Exchange Net- work, says approximately 4,500 Canadians are currently on the transplant list.
The list is increasing, she says, but the number of donors remains about the same.
Between 60-70 people from this province are waiting for kidney, liver and pancreas transplants.
This province does not keep a list of those waiting for heart and lung transplants as the majority of these patients are living in the area where the transplant will take place, and are registered in that area.
Not everyone who dies donate their organs.
White says in this province the only time organs can be donated is when someone has suffered complete and irreversible loss of all brain function and is declared brain dead.
People can also donate corneas, White says, including people who die of cardiac arrest.
Often referred to as “the window of the eye,” corneas can restore sight in someone who has disease or injury to their cornea. Cornea transplants have a 95 per cent success rate.
After spending the week of April 24-28 promoting Organ Donor Awareness Week, White will continue to get the message out about the importance of people not only signing a donor card and having their intentions stated on their driver’s license, but also talking to their family about their end-of-life decisions.
“Discussing your wishes with your family is very important so your wishes can be reviewed and addressed at the time of death,” she says.
For more information about the Organ Procurement and Exchange Network, call 709-777-6600 or toll free 1-877-640-1110.
Gander resident Corey Winter (left) was the recipient of a heart transplant four years ago. He is shown here with his son Travis, wife Christine and son Phillip. Their dog Harley is also a big part of the family.
This 2009 photo shows Christine Smith (left) and Julia Anstey cutting a cake to mark the fifth anniversary of Julia’s liver transplant. Smith donated part of her liver to Julia.