Parents of Humboldt Broncos player long to connect with son's organ, tissue recipients
Mom of crash victim: 'Just to hear Logan's heart again'
The mother of former Humboldt Broncos defenceman Logan Boulet would give anything to hear his heartbeat again.
"I would love to meet the heart recipient and just to hear Logan's heart again. It's just having that mutual respect and that love for Logan and what he gave," Bernadine Boulet says, with a catch in her voice.
21-year-old Logan Boulet was one of 16 people who died three years ago when the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team's bus collided with a semi truck that blew through a stop sign in Saskatchewan. Thirteen others were injured.
"There were 39 heart transplants in Canada in 2018. One of them was Logan's heart," says his dad, Toby Boulet.
Inspired by coach and mentor Ric Suggitt, Logan signed an organ donor card on his birthday, just weeks before his death. He also made his wishes known to his family.
Logan survived long enough for his organs and corneas to be gathered before he was taken off life support.
"Logan was able to make six people's lives better," Toby says. "He basically saved six lives."
That decision has since inspired an estimated 300,000 Canadians to sign their donor cards in what has become to be known online as the #LoganBouletEffect.
Green Shirt Day on April 7 was created to honour, remember, and recognize the victims and families of that fatal crash and to continue Logan's legacy by raising awareness for organ donation.
According to the Canadian Transplant Association, 90 per cent of Canadians say they support organ donation, but only 23 per cent have registered their decision. Approximately 4,500 Canadians are on the waiting list and an estimated 250 die every year waiting.
'We do not allow for a meeting here'
However, Logan's parents' wish to connect with the recipients of his organs are being stymied by strict health privacy laws in Saskatchewan, the province in which his organs were gathered, even though they live in Alberta.
"We have not met any of the recipients, but we would love to do that. And we would love to know that part of Logan has made their lives better and that they're getting to do things that they probably weren't able to do for many years or maybe ever," Bernadine says.
In Saskatchewan, a donor family or recipient can write a letter and send it through the donation program, which reviews the note to make sure there is no identifying information included, confirms both sides are willing to communicate, and then forwards it on, said Jaime Robin Partyka, coordinator for the Saskatchewan Donation Program.
"We do not allow for a meeting here in Saskatchewan at this point because of confidentiality laws and the legislation, but we can facilitate written communication," she said.
"We're probably traditional as far as recipients and donors meeting."
Bernadine Boulet understands meetings like this must be desired by both families. Even then, they can create hardship if one side wants more of a relationship than the other.
"They don't want the recipients to be showing up on our doorstep and saying, 'Oh, it's Logan's birthday or it's my heart transplant anniversary.' ... Or if we're wanting to be part of their family, which may be a little bit overwhelming. Knowing that you're living because my child or my husband or my wife isn't might be really hard for the angel family," she says.
"They're just trying to protect us."
WATCH | People wear green in memory of Humboldt Broncos crash victim Logan Boulet:
Part of grieving process
However, other provinces do help coordinate meetings if both sides agree.
For example, in 2019, B.C. Transplant introduced a policy and process to support consenting transplant recipients and donor families so they can be in direct contact with each other, including in-person meetings.
Since then, it has connected 10 transplant recipients and donor families, and now it's taking that a step further - it has just launched a research project looking into the benefits, drawbacks and ethics of allowing direct contact for pediatric recipients with their donor families.
"I don't think anyone was confident in going down that road without first having asked the question to children and youth and family. It's like we don't have a real strong roadmap of how to do this work," says Jordy Hermiston, facilitator of B.C. Transplant's Donor Family Services program.
"The more we know, the better able we are ultimately to just support donor families and transplant recipients to get what they need."
The project will begin recruiting participants by mail this week with a final report expected by December.
WATCH | Jordy Hermiston discusses the risks and benefits of organ donor and recipient families meeting each other:
'How do you say a little thank-you'
The Boulets support B.C. Transplant's initiative.
They are grateful for the contact they have already had from two anonymous recipients, including a hand-written letter they received in the year after Logan's death.
"It's just beautiful to hold because it's just someone who took the time to hand-write it and send it through the system and it came to our house," Toby says.
"We haven't written back to these two people that are recipients yet because we're not supposed to say who we are, and we're still having a hard time understanding that concept."
"When your son is one of the most famous organ donors in the country, ever, how do you say a little thank-you without saying who you really are? So we haven't figured that out yet," he says.
Anyone interested in registering to become a donor can find links to their provincial program at www.LiveOn.ca.
Watch | Nova Scotia's presumed consent for organ donation explained: