April 24 to 30 is organ donor and tissue awareness week across B.C. - Image Credit: Contributed

Organ donor awareness

Greatest legacy one can give is to save another’s life.

Marilyn Byfield is a fitting proponent for National Organ Donor and Tissue Awareness Week from April 24 to 30.

Byfield is a member of an Okanagan transplant support group based in Kelowna and a liver transplant recipient which saved the 67-year-old’s life in 2008.

She is volunteer for BC Transplant and helps to organize a organ donor public information event at London Drugs the third Thursday of every month.

To draw attention to awareness week, she and other support group members will be on site at the Canadian Blood Services clinic, 1865 Dilworth Dr. in Kelowna, on Monday, April 24, and Thursday, April 27.

Byfield said she is encouraged by the growing awareness of organ donation and the expanding opportunity for transplant operations in B.C.—117 were done as of April 14 last year, 122 as of April 1 this year.

“Organ donation is a true grassroots movement and that takes time to build up,” Byfield said.

“Eight years ago when I had my transplant, people were largely afraid or unsure about the idea, and today nobody asks about it anymore.”

The challenge, she says, is that while 95 per cent of British Columbians agree with the concept of organ transplant, only about one million of the province’s 4.4 million population have registered as organ donors.

Still, the B.C. organ donor list has grown by 89,000 since last April, with the number of Kelowna registered organ donors now at 44,717.

Byfield says a program originally piloted in four communities, including Kelowna, to work with ICBC asking people to register as an organ donor through their health care card when renewing their license has proven successful.

“A lot of people don’t realize now that registering as an organ donor is done through your care card now and not your license. They may have signed up 20 years ago through their license and think that still applies today but it does not,” she said.

She says the change was done for two reasons: People admitted to the hospital in emergency situations often don’t have their driver’s license with them and not everyone has a driver’s license.

“Organ donation is something you need to think about and make a personal decision about before it becomes an issue. Otherwise, it can become a difficult decision for families to agree on and your personal wishes may not be carried out as you might have wanted,” Byfield said.

“If no decision has been made, and the family says no to organ donation, that’s it. It doesn’t go any further.”

Byfield says there many common misconceptions about organ donation:

* Being a registered organ donor will impact one’s level of medical care: Not true. Contrary to what is portrayed on hospital TV dramas, organ donation information is not revealed formally until someone is medically declared brain dead or dead from cardiac arrest.

* Written in a will: Not the same as being a registered organ donor. Wills are generally not readily accessible or opened at the hospital in the immediacy of someone’s passing.

* Funeral costs: Not covered by government for organ donors.

* Science fallout: Organ donor’s bodies are not turned over for further science research. That is a different registration process.

* Factor of age: The oldest organ donor in Canada was 93 years of age.

* Registration: Being an registered organ donor doesn’t automatically mean your organs will be donated to someone else. There are numerous medical factors that weigh into that decision.

While it can be a personally difficult decision to make, Byfield says being an organ donor offers the greatest gift you can bestow on another person, the legacy of extending another person’s life.

“I am living proof of that. I thought maybe I was too old when I had my liver transplant at 63, but today I continue with the anti-rejection drugs you have to take in my case and my life is back to normal,” she said.

To register to be an organ donor, call 1-800-663-6189 or go online to www.transplant.bc.ca.

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