Sarah Burke leaves organ donor legacy behind

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke’s mother says she hopes people follow her late daughter’s example and sign their organ donor card.

The late Canadian freestyle skier wrote this on her organ donor card: 'Take it all!!!'

Canadian freestyle skiier and Winter X Games gold medalist Sarah Burke died in a freak halfpipe accident in 2012. She donated her organs and tissues to save the lives of others.

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke's mother says she hopes people follow her late daughter's example and sign their organ donor card. 

Burke, who lived in Squamish, B.C. and was instrumental in getting her sport into the Winter Olympics, died in a 2012 half pipe accident in Park City, Utah after a fall severed an artery in her neck. She was 29-years old.

An unregistered person can still become an organ donor after death if their family agrees but Jan Phelan, Burke's mother, says that puts an enormous amount of stress on loved ones who are already grieving.

"I was just proud of Sarah because she had thought about this ahead of time," said Phelan.

"She relieved the burden of that decision from her family. And I was very happy to be able to have carried it out."

ICBC launches their three-month pilot program Tuesday that aims to encourage more people to become organ donors.

Currently 50 per cent of British Columbians believe they have already registered a decision on becoming an organ donor when, in fact, only 20 per cent actually have.

'Take it all!!!"

Jan Phelan, Sarah Burke's mother, says she is proud of her daughter for helping others, even after her death. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Phelan says Burke had talked to her husband before about her wish to be an organ donor, but the family had trouble finding her donor card.

When Burke's husband finally found the card, it was a relief.

Phelan remembers the moment distinctly.

"She had written on the side of it, 'Take it all!!!'" said Phelan.

"It was such a relief to have that terrible decision, that really wonderful decision, taken away from us at the time. We didn't have to decide."

'Give the gift of life'

Phelan says many of Burke's organs were eligible for donation because as a world-class athlete, she was in great health.

"I was told at one point that someone had received her heart and lungs and that every single part that could be used was used."

"I think it's wonderful that she somehow foresaw another way she could be helping people — giving the gift of life. I'm very proud of her for that."

Phelan urges people to consider signing their organ card now and not put it off.

Organ donation and transplantation numbers are up in B.C. (Submitted by Houston Methodist Hospital)

"If it's uncomfortable for you to think about being an organ donor, think about how much harder it is for your family, who are in a state of shock.

"It's so much better to take that decision away and if you can help someone else, it could be a brother a sister, a dear friend, why wouldn't you do that?"

People can register their organ donation decision, or check to see if they're registered online at BC Transplant or by calling 1-800-663-6189.

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Sarah Burke's mother speaks about late daughter's organ donor generosity.


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