An Ottawa surgeon has received a lifetime achievement award from the Trillium Gift of Life Network for helping redefine Canada's organ donation system.

Specifically, Dr. Joe Pagliarello helped make it possible for people whose hearts had stopped — known as cardiocirculatory death — to donate their organs.

Sarah Beth Therien Ottawa organ donor 2005

Sarah Beth Therien, seen here in 2005, wanted her organs donated even though she didn’t meet the brain death criteria, her father says. (Courtesy Beth Bowie-Therien)

Since the 1960s and 1970s, only people who were brain dead and whose hearts were still beating were able to give organs.

But that changed in 2006 when Ottawa resident Sarah Beth Therien, 32, died suddenly. Pagliarello told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday that pushing the case for her donation eligibility was a team effort.

"With a little persuasion from [Sarah Beth's father] Emile and his family, and some persistence on our part, and some co-operation and collaboration from all levels of administration ... we were given the go-ahead to do this," he said.

"In her case in particular, she probably would never have gone on to brain death; many people do not."

'Robust and rigorous processes'

Now, 10 years later, upwards of 20 per cent of all organ donations in Ontario come from people whose hearts have stopped, Pagliarello said, and it's practised across Canada.

"That's many, many people who have an organ transplant who would not have received one otherwise," he said.

In Canada, doctors must wait five minutes after cardiocirculatory death before removing organs. In other jurisdictions, doctors must wait from two to 10 minutes, Pagliarello said.

"We have very, very robust and rigorous processes by which we do this," he said.

Emile Therien said his family is "extremely proud" of Sarah Beth, and they've received two letters from families who benefited from her donation.