Victim's death brings gift of life to eight people

A grief-stricken family in Sydney, N.S. hopes to turn their tragedy into a source of hope for others, deciding to donate their daughter's organs after a fatal car crash earlier this week.
Jillian Whelan's parents knew about her wishes regarding organ donation, making it possibile to give eight families hope for their loved ones from this tragedy. (CBC)

A grief-stricken family in Sydney, N.S. hopes to turn their tragedy into a source of hope for others, deciding to donate their daughter's organs after a fatal car crash earlier this week.  

Eight people will receive organs, eight life-changing gifts from a single tragedy.  

On Monday, 16-year-old Jillian Whelan was a passenger in a serious car accident on Highway 105, in Dalem Lake, Cape Breton. Air ambulance transported her to hospital in Halifax where she later died of her injuries.  

Just a few weeks before Whelan's death, her father helped her fill out her provincial Medical Services Insurance form, which has a section for organ donation.  

"She signed it and she said, 'What's this part?' and I said, 'That's organ donation, if something happens,' and she asked if I was and I told her, 'I was,' and she said that would be something she would want to do," Whelan's father Murdock Smith recounted.  

Because Whelan let her family know her wishes to donate her organs in advance, the hospital was able to act quickly and get her organs to waiting recipients.  

Janet Evans, with Cape Breton Regional Hospital, said that is not always the case. She said even if people opt-in on their MSI form, it's still important that potential donors make sure next of kin are clear about their wishes.

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information. Note: Waiting list numbers are as of Dec. 31, 2010. Transplants are the total number for 2010.

In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, more than 4,500 Canadians were on the waiting list for donor hearts, livers, kidneys and lungs. But only 2,150 organs were available for transplant and close to 250 people died while waiting for a replacement organ.

Evans says it only takes a minute to have a quick conversation, "So, yes that's what they would have wanted. I am going to respect their choice."  

Whelan's family say she was a lively teenager who cared for others. They say even in death she will always be remembered that way.  

Her mother, Colleen Whelan, said helping other people would be something her daughter would have wanted.  

"For Jillian, so it doesn't feel like it was just for nothing. I wanted everyone to know she gave right to the end."