The province has launched a new organ and tissue donor registry in the hopes of improving donation rates while reducing transplant waitlists.
The registry is located at www.givelifesask.ca. According to a press release, it will allow residents to make a formal declaration of their decision to become an organ and tissue donor, and is a key part of the government’s plan to modernize the province’s organ and tissue donation system.
“This is an important day for our government in fulfilling a key commitment to improving organ and tissue donation rates in Saskatchewan,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said in a press release. “I encourage all Saskatchewan residents to join me in registering their intent to donate and potentially one day save lives.”
One tissue donor can help 75 people, and one organ donor can save eight lives. Registering as a donor is the only guaranteed way to make your decision known, the province said. Any Saskatchewan resident 16 or older is able to register.
Once you’ve entered your health care card number, first and last name and date of birth and registered your decision, you’re encouraged to talk to your family so they’re aware of your wishes.
“With this organ and tissue donor registry, we have another way to support grieving families by confirming the intentions of their loved ones,” Saskatchewan Health Authority Medical Director for Donation Dr. Joann Kawchuk said.
“Every person who registers increases the chance of a longer, better life for people waiting for a transplant.”
Blaine Pho lost his wife, Michelle, after a battle with lupus. It left her with irreversible kidney damage, and when they needed a kidney, there was nothing they could do.
“It is such a gift to be able to give life. If this decision is right for you and you decide to be an organ donor, be sure to let those close to you know so your family will support your final wishes,” he said in a press release.
Someone else who knows first hand about the importance of organ donation is Prince Albert’s Terry Switenky.
He founded the Dawne Switenky Memorial Foundation in honour of his wife, Dawne.
She faced a diagnosis in which the only hope was being added to the Organ Transplant list.
She never made it to the top of the list.
Fortunately, she agreed to become an organ donor herself, so her legacy lives on.
Just putting that “organ donor” sticker on your health card, though, isn’t enough.
Switenky said medical personnel involved with organ donations have a hard task, but they’re “good at it.
“It doesn’t happen in 30 seconds,” he said.
When an organ donor dies, it can be hard on the family as they’re often asked to keep their loved one alive and on life support so their organs can be donated.
“Almost none of us realize the process that needs to happen before our final wish can be realized,” the foundation writes on their website.
“It is time that this changed.”
In 2018, another local family relayed what it was like to go through the process of organ donation.
They were faced with the tough choice to leave their loved one on life support so he could donate his organs. They went through the process for 48 hours, each time seeing their loved one, saying goodbye again, and being asked if they wanted to go forward with the organ donation process.
“It was so difficult for me to watch my sister having to go into that room and say goodbye to her husband 15 times. I think something needs to be changed,” the family member said.
“We were given the opportunity three or four times to end the process at any time if it was too emotional for my sister. There was a time she almost did, but we knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. It was the most emotional experience I’ve ever been a part of.”
It’s why Switenky’s foundation created the organ donor creed card. It functions as a vehicle by which family members can be informed, and it can help to prevent a possible veto of organ donation by family members.
It can be issued for the signee’s lifetime and can be uniquely coded in order to electronically log the donor’s intent with their medical records.
“On my last day on Earth, I Pledge as my last wish, with my own free will — my organs — for transplant, as determined by medical specialists,” the card reads.
“I have notified my immediate family and doctor’s office to release my medical records, if required, for evaluation as an organ donor by transplant specialists. No remuneration whatsoever will be made to any estate, family member or other parties for my organs. These wishes are binding by my signature and witnessed by a family member and/or my power of attorney and will not be subject to veto by any party outside the medical profession.”
The card has room for signatures from the cardholder, a witness and includes a space for a medical contact number.
While the foundation is continuing that work, along with promoting the importance of becoming an organ donor through public awareness campaigns and essay contests, Switenky was pleased to see the province stepping up as well.
“Anything that can get attention, anything that can get interaction is a good thing when it comes to organ donation,” he said Thursday.
“Messaging is the most important in order to change the psychology from where it’s been to where it can go. I know from the family standpoint if everyone is on board and acknowledges the wishes of the person who is going to give up their life and organs, they will probably respect those wishes.”
Switenky would like to see becoming an organ donor as normal as getting a driver’s license when you turn 16. The province isn’t there yet, but Thursday’s announcement, he said, is a step in the right direction.
“We’ve got to commend the province on (starting that conversation) and providing the funding they did.”
For more information on the Dawne Switenky Foundation, visit https://angelslegacyproject.com.