N.S. lung transplant recipient urges opt-out law to boost organ donation

Organ transplant recipient Will Fougere says a Halifax man's donation of a kidney to a sick man he heard about on Facebook is an amazing gift, but says a law could help more desperate Canadians.

Will Fougere says a Halifax man's kidney donation to a stranger is amazing, but new rules could help others

Will Fougere says Geoff Kennedy's kidney donation to Rob Edwards is 'beyond phenomenal.' (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A Halifax man who received a life-altering double lung transplant more than five years ago is adding his voice to the call for a law to boost organ donations in Canada.

Will Fougere, 65, is speaking out as two Nova Scotia men prepare for major surgery that will bond their lives. Monday Geoff Kennedy is donating a kidney to Rob Edwards after reading his desperate plea for help on Facebook.

"To do a live donation to a complete stranger — that's beyond phenomenal," said Fougere who runs a Halifax-area support group for transplant patients. "It's very altruistic."​

But Fougere said people wouldn't have to resort to such measures if Canada adopted a presumed consent law that requires people to opt out of donation. 

Fougere believes that could ensure a ready supply of organs for Canadians.

Some countries such as Chile, which enacted a law in 2010, require people to opt out if they don't want to donate their organs. The Canadian Transplant Society says 90 per cent of Canadians say they support organ and tissue donation but less than 20 percent had made plans.

"That in itself is startling," Fougere said.

Geoff Kennedy, (right) and pictured with Rob Edwards and his wife Sarah, says he found 'an interesting friend out of the most unusual circumstances.' (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

In Canada, donors are required to opt in by joining a provincial registry. Donors are also encouraged to tell family and friends about their intentions.

According to federal statistics, in 2014 more than 4,500 people were waiting for organ transplants, 2,300 received a transplant — and 278 people died waiting for one.

Fougere said before his surgery, he was so sick from an illness known as popcorn lung, he was on oxygen around the clock and could walk only five feet. 

Will Fougere moved to Toronto and waited five months before getting the lung transplant in November 2012. (Submitted by Will Fougere)

More than five years on, the retired teacher is so active he swims up to a few times a week. In addition to chairing the monthly transport support group, he also volunteers as a board member of the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.

Fougere also knows the man who inspired Kennedy's extraordinary gift.

Geoff Kennedy says he was inspired to give after his dad Dave Carter received a double lung transplant three years ago. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

One of the members of the support group he runs is Kennedy's father, Dave Carter, who is also a double lung transplant recipient.

Kennedy said he wanted to repay the donation.

"[Dave] must be extremely proud of him for just going out on a limb, and saying, 'Sure, I'm going to give one of my kidneys as a live donor.'"

As for the lungs he received, Fougere doesn't know anything about the person who donated their lungs to him, but a nurse revealed something.

"She said they were prettiest, pinkest lungs that she'd seen."

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu

Reporter

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia and host of Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.