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April 20, 2009

Organ and tissue donations help save lives

New Glasgow, NS – Terry Goulding found out he had kidney disease when he applied for a life insurance policy. After a sample given during medical testing showed high levels of protein, he was sent for further tests at the Aberdeen Hospital. Within two hours of the first test, he underwent three other, unscheduled tests.

At the time, the CUPE representative wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. “I had no knowledge of being ill,” he says.

The tests showed he was born with only one kidney working, and it was undersized.

The diagnosis: Someday Terry would need either a kidney transplant or to begin receiving dialysis treatments three times a week.

After getting the shocking news, three members of his family stepped forward to be considered as living donors – his brother Jim, his daughter Stefanie and his wife Debby.

Not wanting their teenaged daughter to endure the rigorous testing, and coupled with the possibility that Stefanie might also develop kidney disease, Debby was determined if she was a match, that she would be the donor. “She was very persistent,” says Terry.

Following testing, it was determined that Debby, the infection control practitioner for the Pictou County Health Authority, was a compatible match. Despite the large number of intense tests she had to go through, Debby never wavered in her resolve to help her husband. At the time, they had been married for almost 20 years.

“It was mainly because he is my husband and he needed a kidney. I felt it was important that I be the first to step up,” she says. “It’s difficult to watch the person you love become more and more ill and to know he’s going to need an organ transplant. If you’re able to consider donating, it’s a wonderful gift and a wonderful opportunity to do it.

At the time of his diagnosis, the New Glasgow resident didn’t need the transplant immediately, but over a period of eight years, the illness progressed and in January 2002 the then 48-year-old received a kidney from his wife.

“In the fall of 2001, I was swollen up and in pain. I was still working, but we knew it was time – I was getting pretty close to kidney failure,” says Terry. “By the time I had the surgery, I was yellow. I was functioning, but I was not well at all. I was tired all the time and nauseated.”

When he woke up from the surgery, Terry felt like a completely different person.

“I woke up feeling great in the recovery room. I was a bit sore because of the surgery, but I was a different person totally,” he says. “I was on the surgery table feeling really, really ill, and I woke up feeling really healthy. It was like being reborn.”

Although Terry would have been able to survive by undergoing dialysis, his life would have been severely restricted. “We live a normal life because I received the gift of a kidney from my wife. If I didn’t, my life would be drastically different – I would not have been able to continue to work or travel if it wasn’t for the transplant. Without the donation, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the life I enjoy today. We literally travel the world, and those things would never have happened.”

While going through the process to become a donor, Debby had the chance to talk to people who had organ transplants, and although their stories varied, she says their quality of life had been turned around.

“To have the opportunity to witness first-hand the transformation and witness the quality of life it brings to the recipient -- it’s incredible. This man was very ill one day and eight hours later, he felt better than he had in 20 years. I couldn’t believe the transformation – it was just unreal.”

“It’s the opportunity to have a very positive impact on somebody else’s life as an organ donor,” she says.

The week of April 19 to 26 is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, and the Gouldings hope people in Nova Scotia and across the country will consider becoming donors, and giving someone the gift of life.

“The Canadian Blood Services says ‘It’s in you to give’ and this rings true – it’s a phenomenal gift for anybody who’s able to do it. The ability to transform another person’s life – I don’t think there’s a much greater gift than that,” says Debby.

While kidneys and pieces of livers, and in rare occasions, portions of lungs or small bowels, are able to be given from living donors – many more organs can be donated after death. These include the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs and small bowel. As well, tissues such as corneas from the eyes, heart valves, bones and skin can be donated after death. Corneas can restore vision, bone is used daily in orthopedic surgeries and skin can be used to repair damage from burns.

During National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, Cathy Timmons is also encouraging people to think about organ and tissue donation. The organ and tissue donation resource nurse for the PCHA says the most important thing to do is discuss the issue with your family. “Talk about it and realize that it does save lives.”

According to Health Canada, only three simple steps need to be followed: Discuss organ and tissue donation with your family, ask your family to support your decision, and register your decision to become a donor on your health card.

"Organ and tissue donation is one of the greatest gifts a person can give. Today, more than 50 per cent of Nova Scotians are registered as organ and tissue donors. We want to encourage more people to consider registering to be a donor. In Nova Scotia, you indicate your wish on your health card. For more information, visit www.legacyoflife.ns.ca, or call MSI at 1-800-563-8880," said Corinne Corning, program manager, Legacy of Life: Nova Scotia Organ and Tissue Donation Program.

Timmons says it’s extremely important to discuss the issue with your family members, because even though someone has signed a donor card, after they pass away the final decision about making the donation is left up to family members. If they know they’re respecting the wishes of the deceased person, it makes their decision easier.

“We need to get the community and people aware. If you want to help someone after you have died, the only way it will happen is if a family member is aware of your feelings. A family member is going to decide, so they have to know your wishes.”

Timmons says a lot of misconceptions exist about organ and tissue donation. Some people mistakenly believe if they choose to be an organ donor, they will not be well taken care of when they seek medical treatment at a hospital. “We will take care of you to the fullest extent,” she says.

Another myth is that an organ donor cannot have an open casket at their funeral. Timmons says when tissues are donated, they are taken from less noticeable areas. ”Patients are not disfigured in any way, and they can have an open casket. It’s done with complete care and complete respect.”

While people who pass away at home are not able to donate organs because they must continue to be ventilated, they can still donate tissues.

People should also consider themselves a potential donor regardless of their age or medical history. “Anybody under the age of 80 can donate, even if they have cancer,” she says.

There are also no additional expenses to family members when someone chooses to become a donor after death.

Being an organ donation champion is her career, but Timmons also has a personal interest in the subject. She had two cousins pass away from kidney disease. “It can give the family a sense of closure to know their family member’s death was not in vain, that something was done to have somebody else live on.”

Timmons says lives are changed by organ and tissue donation, with a single organ donor helping as many as eight people and a tissue donor helping as many as 40. “It’s having a part of a family member living on in someone else to ensure they live or make their lives better.”

According to statistics compiled by the Multi Organ Transplant Program, 130 patients in Nova Scotia were waiting for transplants of kidneys, livers, hearts and pancreas.

Timmons says as of the end of March in Pictou County, seven people were waiting for kidney transplants.

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Contact: Eileen MacIsaac
Public Relations
752-7600, ext. 1124

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