Donating saves lives

Eric Sparling
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Legacy of Life’s April plans

Young people parade on Victoria Street as part of the kick-off for a month-long Legacy of Life campaign. Leading the parade were sisters Laura Gaudet (left), who had a heart transplant as an infant, and Carrie Gaudet. 

AMHERST – Debbie Beal watched a loved one’s health deteriorate. Her brother, Jay Spencer, struggled to breathe. He spent five months in the hospital in intensive care.

“He was on total oxygen,” she said.

But with one lung in complete failure and the other failing, Spencer still laboured to get the air he needed.

“It almost tears your heart out,” said the sister.

Spencer’s life has changed dramatically thanks to a double-lung transplant. Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week takes place Apr. 21 to 28, but the Legacy of Life campaign is using all of April to increase public awareness of the lifesaving practice.

Sue Boiduk is a resource nurse with Cumberland County. She’ll be hosting a remote presentation by Canadian Blood Services Apr. 9 at Campbell’s Chapel, starting at 6 p.m. Stem cells and bone marrow transplants will be the focus of a slideshow, followed by a detailed talk by Boiduk about organ and tissue donation.

Boiduk said awareness is an issue.  The nurse said some people may not understand the scope of tissue donations, which can include (for example) ligaments and tendons, heart valves and bone. Some tissues can be preserved up to five years, she said.

The campaign kicked off Monday with a flag-raising in Victoria Square and a green balloon parade by Spring Street Academy students and others. Sherry Lynn Gaudet was there with her kids.

“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” said the mother.

She was referring to the ordeal her daughter, Laura, went through at the age of just three and a half months. The girl, now 12, had a heart transplant. One infant lived where two might have been lost.

“How do you thank somebody? …I have a beautiful 12-year old daughter,” said the woman.

Boiduk hopes the seeds of knowledge can be planted early. A young Ottawa woman who underwent double-lung transplant, Helene Campbell, has garnered a lot of publicity recently.

“It really put a light on the subject,” said Boiduk.

Other events planned this month include an Apr. 13 morning ‘meet and greet’ at Atlantic Superstore, and an Apr. 22 awareness booth at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

The nurse is anticipating the proclamation of a new Human Tissue Gift Act, which will recognize common-law partners as substitute organ donation decision-makers and, in her view, give greater weight to a would-be donor’s wishes as expressed on a health card.

“It’s an awesome gift,” said the nurse.

Spencer’s ordeal has brought his siblings together.

“Life is very precious,” said Beal.

The man’s two-year assessment went very well, according to his sister.

“He’s awesome,” she said. “He is having a life.”

She said she thinks about the person who donated their lungs, and thinks about the way in which that donor’s existence continues as part of her brother. Beal credits the health care system and the help of the public with fundraising for her brother’s improved condition. And the woman of faith has offered a lot of prayers.

The sister said you don’t realize the devastation wrought by a medical crisis until you witness it firsthand.

“We’re on this earth to help,” she said.

Down at Victoria Square, Laura Gaudet was asked why she thinks some people don’t donate.

“They probably either don’t know about it or they’re just afraid to do it,” said the recipient of a heart.

Twitter: @ADNsparling

Organizations: Canadian Blood Services, Street Academy, Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre

Geographic location: Victoria Square, Cumberland County, Ottawa

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