THUNDER BAY - Gary Cooper, as a two time liver transplant recipient, stood before the family of Nick Girardin, who passed away last November. As an organ donor, Girardin, along with six other donors in 2018, helped save 26 lives at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
“On behalf of all recipients, I thank you,” Cooper said. “I’m absolutely in awe standing before you.”
“That was really powerful to have Gary say thank you,” said Nick’s daughter, Bailey Collins-Girardin. “It was like the other end of the story, but it wasn’t the other end of the story. It was a thank you from whoever got the organs that didn’t get a chance to say that.”
There remains a critical need for organ and tissue donation in Canada and as part of National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is urging the public to consider making a decision that could save someone’s life.
According to Dr. Samantha Arora, an intensive care physician at TBRHSC, Canada has been better at promoting and raising awareness about the need for organ donations, but there is still a dramatic difference between supply and demand.
“Hundreds of patients in Ontario die every year,” she said. “Events like this are crucial to really raising awareness to the public because that initial decision about whether or not you are interested in becoming a donor is really the most crucial one.”
There are more than 1,600 people on the waitlist for a life-saving organ transplant in Ontario and every three days someone will die while waiting.
“One organ donor can donate up to eight organs and several tissues such as heart valves, bone tendons, and organs,” Arora said. “It’s a dramatic impact that one person can have.”
There are some misconceptions surrounding organ donation, Arora added, one of the biggest being that becoming an organ donor will interfere with your medical care.
“The truth is, your wish to be a donor is not revealed to your health care team until the conversation has already happened with your family that you are dying and medical science is unable to save you,” she said. “It’s only then are the nurses instructed via a protocol to call Trillium Gift of Life. The physicians are 100 per cent removed from that conversation.”
Collins-Girardin said she wanted to share her dad’s story of becoming an organ donor because she wanted to get the word out and promote how it can save people’s lives.
“My dad, he was a hero and donated his organs,” she said. “If someday I could do that, why not, it’s pretty cool.”
“My dad was always wandering around town and I would see him in the weirdest spots. It’s pretty cool to think that anybody I could pass by could have a piece of my dad in them and I don’t know who it is.”
But the decision to become a donor can also help family through the loss of a loved one by knowing that with loss, also comes hope.
“It’s very nice to know that in a tough situation that we have the power to save somebody’s life,” said Nick’s mother, Stacey Girardin-Chicago. “We lost our son in November. Right around the holidays, I couldn’t imagine being a family knowing they wouldn’t have their family for that holiday, which helped us through our tough time.”
Arora said it is very special hearing stories from people like Bailey, Stacey, and Gary because they show just how much of an impact organ donation can have on so many different people.
“The reason we care so much about this is we know that at the end of life there isn’t a lot of opportunity to find positives in that moment,” she said. “This is probably the only way we can turn an otherwise and still devastating moment for the family into something positive. Hearing from those families is really meaningful.”
To become an organ and tissue donor visit www.beadonor.ca.