Saying thanks for a new lease on life

Nurses of Kelowna General Hospital were thanked Wednesday for the work they do, by organ transplant survivors

Operation Popcorn brought together organ transplant recipients and KGH nurses Wednesday



Olga Sawatzky doesn’t often see the lives saved through organ donation.

“From our perspective we only see organ retrievals and it’s a very emotional process for our nurses,” said Sawatzky, an operating room patient care co-ordinator at Kelowna General Hospital, where organs are removed from donor patients and shipped to Vancouver for transplant.

Only having the chance to see patients going through the last moments of their lives, or their families as they say goodbye is hard and it’s is what makes an annual tradition called Operation Popcorn more than just a trite photo op.

Men and women who have been given a new lease on life through organ donation deliver festive tins of popcorn to staff in intensive care units, emergency departments and operating rooms as a gesture of thanks.

That offers nurses a glimpse into a life well lived and that helps lighten the load they carry.

“It is heartwarming to see them today. You see the chance they’ve had to live, to be with their loved ones and be productive members of society,” Sawatzky said.

“That’s in large part due to the patients and the families who have decided to donate organs and, maybe, a tiny little bit attributable to the wonderful staff at KGH, who come in the middle of the night and leave their families to assist in organ retrievals.”

For those who have decided to donate organs, the event is also a powerful  reminder of what they’ve been through with the organ donation process.

“I think about my donor every day,” said Stanley Schibler, who has had a new liver for the last three years. “We all do. We are the most grateful people you will ever meet. “

Schibler was diagnosed with stage four liver disease in 2011, and waited three years for a second chance at life.

Since he’s had it, he’s changed in a number of ways, some of which he suspects may be attached to the donor.

“I wake up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and I never used to do that,” he said. “I was a late waker and now I’m an early riser. So, I think about it a lot.”

Marilyn Byfield has also been offered a new lease on life through a liver transplant.

“You have to be near death before you get a transplant and you don’t know if you will make it or not,” she said. “Thirty per cent of the men and women on the transplant list don’t get one.”

For her, Operation Popcorn isn’t just an opportunity to say thanks to all the healthcare staff she’s dealt with through her health issues. It’s also a chance to remind the community at large that organ donation saves lives.

“Some people are waiting for their organs for six years,” she said.

“We do a lot of work about getting people to register to be an organ donor.”

Operation Popcorn teams visited 31 hospitals in BC and one in the Yukon to gift festive tins of popcorn to show their appreciation. To date in 2016, there have been 91 deceased donor cases and 92 living donor cases at hospitals across BC – providing the gift of life to 396 recipients.

“As many as 150 healthcare workers can be involved in the donation and transplant process, and some never learn the outcome of their efforts, much less get an opportunity to meet the people they helped,” said Dr. Sean Keenan, Medical Director for Organ Donation at  BC Transplant.

“Operation Popcorn is a small way for us to thank everyone from the critical care professionals who care for the deceased donor and their family, to the operating room staff involved in the recovery of organs.”

Support for organ donation across the province continues to rise as more and more British Columbians register their decision in the Organ Donor Registry. A recent partnership between BC Transplant and Service BC, allowing people to register at any of the 62 service BC locations, has led to a steady increase in registrations.

So far this year, 76,809 British Columbians have registered their decision, bringing the total registered to 1,044,908.