Northern Ontario a 'role model' for organ donation

The Trillium Gift of Life Network calls northern Ontario a role model for the rest of the province when it comes to organ donations.
Thirty-five-year-old Jaime Lafond of Sudbury suffers from cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disorder. She received a lung transplant within a short period of time of her health taking a turn for the worse. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The Trilliam Gift of Life Network says the rate of people signed up to donate in northern Ontario is the highest in the province.

The region's generosity is not lost on Sudbury resident Jaime Lafond, who once found taking care of her young son left her more breathless than other parents.

"I couldn't get up the stairs. It was difficult to get through a bedtime story."

It sort of hit me that, if I don't get my lungs, I'm going to ... I'm going to die.- Lung transplant recipient Jaime Lafond

The 35-year-old suffers from cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disorder.

Three years ago, Lafond's health plummeted and she was put on an urgent wait list for a lung transplant.

"I spent a good part of the day looking online at the Trillium Gift of Life foundation website. Because there was actually a part where it showed the people waiting for a double lung transplant. And I would watch the number fluctuate, week-to-week, day-to-day and, unfortunately sometimes just month-to-month," she said.

"There were times where the number of people waiting was just increasing ... there wasn't enough donors to accommodate the number of people waiting. And that made me a little nervous. It sort of hit me that, if I don't get my lungs, I'm going to ... I'm going to die. Very shortly after I had that thought, I actually got my call."

And Lafond got her new lungs.

'Culture of donation'

There's a good chance that those lungs might have belonged to someone in northern Ontario, the president of Ontario's donor register says. That's because about 50 per cent of the eligible population in northern Ontario have registered to donate their organs — double the provincial average.

Ronnie Gavsie, the president and CEO of the Trillium Gift of Life Network, said many northern Ontario communities have created a culture where registering to be an organ donor is the norm.

Northern Ontario far outranks other regions with the percentage of registered organ donors. Here's the story of Lynda Schutt.

“And that's the culture we would like to create throughout Ontario. So northern Ontario is the role model."

Gavsie noted that people in smaller towns are more likely to know someone who needed an organ.

"And that creates a culture of donation in that community. A culture where people register as the norm."

Gavsie added northern Ontario's rates are also due to a swell in successful local donor campaigns.

'Whenever I laugh, I think of my gift'

Organ donor recipients like 24-year-old Lynda Schutt, who was born with only half a heart, are the beneficiaries of those local campaigns.

Garson resident Lynda Schutt received a heart transplant in 2007 after living 17 years with half a heart. Garson is one of six communities that have more than fifty per cent of its residents registered to donate. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Schutt spent the first 17 years of her life struggling with her condition.

“Back then, I used to not be able to have a full shower without … taking a rest, and … stopping to get air."

Schutt finally received a heart transplant in 2007.

Schutt's town of Garson is one of six communities that have more than fifty per cent of its residents registered to donate. Several Sudbury-area communities have more than half of their residents registered, such as Lively, Hanmer and Val Caron. North Bay just joined that list.

The lowest rates for donation in the province are in the Greater Toronto Area, with only 15 per cent of residents signing up.

As for Lafond, she said she's grateful to the person who registered to donate the lungs that now help her live.

"I have a life again. I can do pretty much anything else anyone can do pretty much. I don't feel that I'm missing out," she said.

"One of the things that I couldn't do before my transplant was laugh. And whenever I laugh now, I think of my gift."

To become a donor, go online to


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