Organ donation: People helping people

The waiting list for an organ transplant is long — everyone from children to seniors, and all walks of life. This week is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week

Organ donation: People helping people

It’s a message that needs to be kept alive.

This week marks National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, BC Transplant’s key time make sure the need and the benefits of organ donation and the life-saving effects of transplantation are fresh in the public mind.

BC Transplant oversees all aspects of organ donation and transplant across BC and manages the BC Organ Donor Registry.

Heather Hockley of Cranbrook spoke to the Townsman on behalf of BC Transplant. She herself received a kidney transplant several years ago, and knows first hand the shock of diagnosis, the long wait while one’s life is pretty much confined to the dialysis machine, the emotional upheaval and new lease on life of a transplant.

Hockley was diagnosed in 2008 with failing kidneys, and started her dialysis.

It was partly hereditary, and partly high blood pressure — “that was the killer” — that damaged her kidneys beyond repair.

“By the time I was diagnosed, it was too late for any corrective measures, like diet, good health care. It was ‘here you are, your kidneys are failing, here’s your date to start dialysis.

“Within a couple of months of being diagnosed I was on dialysis. Then three years, where I was on dialysis every day for eight hours a day.”

Finally, in 2011, Hockley got the call. A kidney had been donated that was a match for her.

“When you do get the call, you have limited time, because believe or not, we’re considered an isolated community in Cranbrook,” she said. “Everything happens in Vancouver, Calgary, the big cities.

“It was an odd feeling when it finally came through, to be honest. I didn’t know whether to cry, to celebrate — I had no idea what to do.”

She was on the next flight to Vancouver. “It was the longest flight I’d ever been on, because the whole time I was thinking that someone had died in order for me to Hockley said that until you’re on the table, you don’t even know if that transplant is even going to go ahead. “That’s another whole emotional rollercoaster while you’re waiting in the hospital.”

But she said everything went well after the transplant. Two and a half months living in Vancouver afterwards, close to hospital, and then she gradually got back back into a lifestyle where she could exercise and do things without being out of breath, being able to stay awake for more than 10 hours at a time, even getting back into golf. Life resumed.

“I’m on a strict regimen of drugs, which you have to be on for the rest of your life, and constant bloodwork to check things, but everything’s been really good,” she said.

The donors and their families remain anonymous.

“I’d love to thank the family in person. But it’s really hard to find out,” Hockley said.

Hockley, as a kidney recipient, is in the majority of those needing a donated organs. Livers, hearts, lungs, pancreases, stomachs — there is a demand, and a waiting list, for all of them. A life-saving demand, Hockley stresses.

While Hockley wasn’t able to provide exact statistics as to the demand, there are certainly hundreds of people in B.C. alone waiting for a kidney transplant. In 2013, 346 organ and stem cell transplants were performed in B.C.

The rejection rate of a transplant is very low, Hockley said. The pre-transplant testing is rigorous and sophisticated to get the best match possible for the recipient.

At present, one still signs up to have their organs harvested after they die. But at a recent kidney symposium last year, there was much discussion about ‘presumed consent,’ which is the premise that everyone is an organ donor, and you opt out — for religious reasons, or personal reasons, etc, Hockley said — instead of opting in by signing a form.

It’s gaining popularity, Hockley said. France just initiated presumed consent in January of this year. And there are other countries in Europe that have had presumed consent for a long time.

“So it would be nice if we could go that way, but in the meantime we need to push that people need to sign up.”

Organ donation is a true example of people helping people. And it has profound implications for both recipient and donor.

“Part of us can go on, if we donate to help somebody else,” Hockley said. “We’ve got children who are waiting for organ donations, right through up to seniors, every walk of life, it will affect anybody and everybody. And making a donation will not just change that person’s life, it will affect their whole family’s life.”

To register to be an organ donor, those interested can go to the Transplant BC website, ( Hockley is always open to talk those interested, as well. Email her at

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