When Victoria councillor Jeremy Loveday checked to make certain he was on the list of provincial organ donors, he was surprised to learn he was not registered as a donor.
Loveday is one of a group of councillors who recently introduced a resolution for presentation at the fall meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, urging other municipalities to encourage their citizens to become organ donors.
The resolution was drafted in response to the efforts of Dr. Robin Lowry, a Victoria physician who had approached council with his concern that organ donations were falling short of the need for the life-saving procedures. Twenty-one British Columbians died in 2015 while on a wait list for organ donations.
Loveday felt strongly about the issue and wanted to ensure he was personally walking the walk.
“I recalled that I had, a long time ago, a sticker on my care card that identified me as a donor so I assumed I was on the list. It was a bit of a shock for me to find out I wasn’t,” said Loveday.
The confusion was rooted in a change in the administration of donors in B.C. dating back to 1997 when the province became the first in Canada to implement a digital registry of organ donors. The old system of donation in which a simple sticker on a drivers licence or care card identified donors was scrapped and the new system came into play.
According to Peggy John, manager of communications for B.C. Transplant, there was a push at the time to inform people of the change. But the next substantial educational drive didn’t occur until 2008 when there was a “big push” to inform British Columbians that they could now register on-line to become a donor.
“If that’s the case, it’s definitely time for another push,” said Loveday.
“It occurs to me there are a large number of people out there, in Victoria and across the province, who would be willing to become organ donors, but there seems to be a gap between the willingness and the actual registration needed to be a donor. I suspect people just don’t know how to register or how easy it is to do so.”
Shannon McCloskey, transplant B.C’s in-hospital donation coordinator for Vancouver Island, agrees it’s time to increase awareness.
“We know that up to 90 per cent of people (on the Island) have said they would be willing to donate an organ, but only 18 per cent have actually registered. It’s getting better, but we really need to get the word out that it’s quick and easy to become a donor. We’re trying …but we need to get better,” said McCloskey.
One individual who is working hard to raise awareness of how to become a donor is Jillianne Code. She’s a Victoria resident and professor at UVic who, in 2006, fell ill and was diagnosed with ‘heart failure’. She required intensive medical supervision to keep her alive and in 2012 was placed on the wait-list for a heart transplant. In 2014 she was finally notified that a donor heart had come available. Within 24 hours she had travelled to Vancouver for the surgery and recieved her new heart.
“I’m out here now telling people my story and urging them to have the conversation with their families about becoming a donor and then signing up on the registry,” said Code.
“A lot of people still think that they are registered and are unaware that there is a process they now have to go through to become a donor. It’s a chance to save a life.”
An upcoming initiative of Transplant B.C. may help in further raising awareness of the process. In conjunction with National Organ and Tissue Transplant Awareness Week, the organization has launched a campaign called #48in48. It kicks off on Monday, April 18 and runs for 48 hours with the aim of generating 48,000 donor registrations nation-wide.
To register as an organ donor visit transplant.bc.ca.