In life, they called Bob Naka the ghostbuster: If you needed something done, who were you going to call?
“Bob would help anybody, anytime,” said wife Shauna this week, remembering the man she married and raised two children with. “He was a very community-minded guy and really kind to other people.”
A Kelowna original and a man whose funeral attracted some 1,000 people after he passed away in 2014, Naka’s reputation for helping people didn’t end with his death.
Years before he died, Bob and Shauna had discussed organ donation and both were registered organ donors with B.C Transplant.
“We had discussed it many times over the years,” said Shauna. “He just thought it was kind of a waste not to be an organ donor. He said if you could help someone else out when you couldn’t help yourself….he would say that’s the right thing to do.”
Bob Naka passed way in July of 2014 at the age of 68. He was working on the family farm when he suffered a heart attack. After a week on life support and when it was clear he wasn’t going to survive, Naka passed away. And in death, he continued to help people: His kidneys, pancreas, liver and corneas were all donated. He also had a rare blood type, meaning a recipient who had been waiting a long time would receive a match.
“It makes me proud knowing that was the type of person he was,” said Shauna. “It was an extension of the way he lived life. It was not easy to get through all of that but the BC Transplant people are so compassionate and supportive. They took all the worry and stress away.”
In the wake of Bob’s organ donation, Shauna received correspondence from one person who received a transplant from her husband. Like her late husband, the man who received the donation was community-minded and the donation had allowed him to get back to health and back to helping others.
“That’s the amazing moment and when it really hit home,” said Shauna. “There’s a huge positive impact by being a donor. You’re in that situation and the cards are already cast. Bob couldn’t change his outcome. To know that at least some good could come out of that situation, that’s pretty powerful. And especially in that case, it was somebody that made it clear they were quite community-minded. I guess that person got part of Bob’s good spirit.”
The selfless act of donors and donor families like Shauna’s are part of the reason BC Transplant posted record-breaking numbers in 2015.
In fact, B.C. has more than doubled its deceased organ donor rate in the last six years and surged well ahead of the national rate, thanks to ever-increasing public awareness and support for organ donation.
In 2009, B.C.’s deceased donor rate was 7.2 per million people. Six years later, B.C.’s deceased donor rate has increased to 20 per million people, with the national rate at 16.6 per million (2014). There were 95 deceased donors originating in B.C. in 2015 compared to 32 in 2009.
Locally the Interior Health Authority saw a significant increase in deceased donor numbers as well, reporting 20 deceased donors last year. Collectively, health authorities around the province helped provide 422 life-saving transplants for patients—a six-year high for BC Transplant.
“Simply put, the reason why we’ve seen this tremendous spike in deceased organ donation is increased support for, and commitment to, the donation and transplant process,” said Dr. David Landsberg, physician lead for BC Transplant. “The critical care community and operating room staff are integral to the organ referral, recovery and transplant process. We are working together with our health authority partners to ensure every family has the opportunity to consider organ donation regardless of where in B.C. they live.”
For Shauna Naka, life has marched on since she lost her partner. She says she is doing OK and remains strong, one of the reasons Bob had married her in the first place. She fondly remembers the man who made it his life to be a part of the community. Bob was involved in old-timers hockey and the farming community, he was an activist supporting the Japanese Canadian Association and an active member in the Kelowna business community, building his irrigation business from the ground up. He was a father who coached his kids in school sports and a loving husband. He was the ghostbuster, always ready to help people. Both in life and in death.
“I know if he was alive and knew he was going to be an organ donor, he would have been very positive and happy about that,” said Shauna. “Everybody knew him as a big, smiley, nice guy. He was a really good man. “
One organ donor can save eight lives – register your decision at transplant.bc.ca or at any Service BC office.