Organ donation by Humboldt Broncos player inspires others

Many social media users say the donation of Humboldt Broncos defenceman Logan Boulet's organs has inspired them to become donors themselves. Health officials in two provinces say online registrations have surged in the days following the horrific crash.

Donation agencies across Canada say registration jumped after bus crash that claimed 15 lives

Humboldt Broncos defenceman Logan Boulet, 21, was from Lethbridge, Alta. Boulet had recently signed an organ donation card and was kept on life support while matches were found for his organs. He was expected to save the lives of at least six people. (Saskatchewan Junior hockey league)

Many social media users say the donation of Humboldt Broncos player Logan Boulet's organs has inspired them to become donors themselves, with health officials in three provinces saying online registrations have surged in the days following the horrific crash.

A spokesperson for British Columbia's organ donation agency said it saw more than a sixfold increase in online registrations over the weekend compared to two weeks earlier, and Ontario officials said registrations nearly tripled Sunday over the same period of time.

Boulet, a 21-year-old defenceman from Lethbridge, Alta., was among the 15 people who died after the junior hockey team's bus and a transport truck in Saskatchewan collided Friday. Fourteen others were injured.

His godfather posted a statement on behalf of the family saying a surgical team from Alberta travelled to a Saskatoon hospital to conduct organ transplant procedures early Sunday morning.

Neil Langevin said six people were set to receive the "gift of life" from Boulet, and his other organs would be donated to science.

"Logan had made it known, and very clear to his family, that he had signed his organ donor card when he turned 21 just a few weeks ago," Langevin said in a Facebook post.

"These actions alone give voice to the selfless and benevolent nature Logan possessed in life for others."

There were 24 members of the Humboldt Broncos, with members of the team ranging in age from 16 to 21. (Humboldt Broncos/Twitter)

The number of Albertans expressing interest in becoming a donor skyrocketed over the weekend. By Monday, 897 people in the province had registered their wishes to become a donor, more than double the usual 425 registrations that would normally be seen over a two day period, said a ministry of health spokesperson.

"The decision to donate organs is a powerful gift, made more poignant because it often happens at an incredibly difficult time," said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman in a statement. 

"As Logan's family has said, 'Even in his eventual passing, he will be a selfless hero.' I couldn't agree more."

A spokesperson for Ontario's Trillium Gift of Life Network said 182 people registered online to become donors Sunday, up from 67 new registrations on March 25.

The majority of Ontario organ donors register in person, and the number of registrations tends to fluctuate, so it can be challenging to pinpoint any single explanation for the jump, Jennifer Long said.

In British Columbia, 363 people have registered their decisions online since Friday evening, a BC Transplant spokesperson said in an email, compared to 59 registrations over the weekend of March 24 and 25, which is more typical.

Silver lining, even in tragedy

Lee Ellis, a 55-year-old dog walker in the Toronto area, said she had been thinking about becoming an organ donor for a while, but only got around to it this weekend after coming across a tweet encouraging others to follow Boulet's lead.

"There's always a bit of a silver lining, even in a tragedy like this," Ellis said in a phone interview. "This is definitely going to be part of his legacy. The people that get his organs are going to have a chance at a good life."

Nicole Stokke in Nanaimo, B.C., said on Facebook that it took her less than three minutes to register as a donor on her cell phone, and she didn't even have to leave her bed.

"It's such an easy thing that everyone can try to do to help," Stokke, 25, said in a phone interview. "Life is so short. You never know when this kind of tragedy could happen to you."

A ring of flowers surround centre ice at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Ronnie Gavsie, the president and CEO of Trillium, said people across the country have taken heart in Boulet's story.

"What makes Logan such a hero is that he actually took action," said Gavsie. "His legacy will go on and on as an example to all Canadians of the importance of thinking about giving the gift of life today."

20% of Canadians are organ donors

Only 20 per cent of Canadians have registered as organ donors, she said, despite surveys suggesting that 90 per cent of the country supports the cause.

Good intentions are not enough to help the 4,500 people in Canada who currently need a life-saving organ transplant, Gavsie said. Every year, she said the wait list grows, and hundreds of people die without receiving the treatment they need.

She said many people put off registration because they don't want to think about how this issue could affect them, but she hopes Boulet's example will jolt Canadians into signing up.

Michelle Vanderhart, a mother of three in Fort MacCleod, Alta., said her two-year-old son Mason is one of the people for whom the decision to register could mean the difference between life and death.

Doctors say Mason will need a liver transplant at some point in his life because of a rare childhood disease, said Vanderhart, and organ donations like Boulet's mean "the world" to many other families in similar positions.

Every person who registers as a donor has the potential to save eight people's lives through organ donation, and their tissue could better the lives of 75 others, said Gavsie.

"There can be a gift in this sorrowful time," Gavsie said. "Each of us has such power to save lives, to soften the grief of our families, to take away from them the burden of not knowing what our wishes are."