British Columbia

B.C. government looking for thousands of people to register as organ donors

As the holidays near, the BC government is ramping up its efforts to get new registrations for organ donors.

'And I put my hands in the air, to thank my donor, who is now in heaven,' says transplant recipient

Margaret Benson got a new set of lungs 17 years ago after suffering from cystic fibrosis much of her life. She now has a collection of medals from running marathons at the World Transplant Games. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

As the holidays near, the B.C. government is ramping up its efforts to get more people to register to become potential organ donors.

Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson, who is also a physician, is hoping thousands more will commit to give what he calls the gift of life over the Christmas season. 

"These potential organ donors come in after they've had major injuries, usually head injuries and the rest of their bodies are intact," Wilkinson said.

"These are tragic scenarios, but the families rise to the occasion to make sure these organs are donated to make the maximum use of them," he added.

'I put my hands in the air, to thank my donor, who is now in heaven'

Margaret Benson got a new set of lungs 17 years ago.

She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a teenager and was never able to take a full breath because her lungs were always filled with fluid. She says getting a new set was an extraordinary experience. 

"I just kept on breathing and breathing and breathing and I thought, are these lungs ever going to stop?" Benson said from her home in North Vancouver. 

Benson now runs marathons in the World Transplant games and has a battery of medals to prove it.

"When I cross the finish line, I put my hands in the air, to thank my donor, who is now in heaven," she said.

She urged people to register, and said having important conversations with family about life and death and what happens to one's body are critical in the process of making a decision to donate organs.

'People are full with good intentions'

According the the B.C. government, there are 638 British Columbians waiting for a life-saving transplant.

This summer more than 21,000 new donors registered. Wilkinson says those numbers have lagged over the fall, and he says gently pushing people at this time of the year could raise the registrations. 

"People are full with good intentions until it comes to remembering to go home and fill out the questions on the form," Wilkinson said.

He said more than 95 per cent of people in this province support organ donations, but only 20 per cent have registered.

Elizabeth Edward received her new heart in 2011. She says there are no words to express her gratitude but she tries to honour her donor and donor family by volunteering and doing transplant advocacy. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Elizabeth Edward's life was also saved by an organ transplant. Her heart was attacked by an auto-immune disorder called sarcoidosis.

In 2011, she received a new heart from B.C.'s donor list.

"As I was coming out of the fog from the surgery and the anaesthetic, I felt bad from the surgery, but I still felt way better than I had in a long time," Edward said. 

Edward says it's as simple as clicking on the Transplant BC website with a B.C. services number, answering some questions and agreeing to donate your organs.