A local foundation is ramping up its goal to recruit people to become organ donors, as April is celebrated as Be A Donor Month.
Clarence Pilon, shortly after losing his wife Karen in 2014, established the Karen Pilon Organ Donor Awareness Foundation in her honour and to shed light on the matter of organ donation.
Karen passed away in 2014 waiting for a lung transplant as she battled pulmonary fibrosis.
“For us, as a family, it is huge right now,” Clarence said, adding that one of Karen’s brothers is currently in the early stages of battling the same disease and their youngest daughter is a carrier of the gene.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a respiratory disease that affects the function of the lungs, eventually requiring a transplant to survive.
Attempting to fulfil this goal can be difficult, especially in Saskatchewan, which ranks well behind other jurisdictions when it comes to the number of registered donors.
According to the Canadian Transplant Society, around 90 per cent of Canadians support organ and tissue donations, but less than 25 per cent plan to donate.
In Saskatchewan, the low donor rate can force people out of the province to receive transplants, though heart, lung, liver, and pancreas transplants are not performed in the province.
This was the case with Karen, who spent time waiting in Edmonton, Alta. for a lung.
Working to address this concern, late last year, a legislative committee suggested the province move to a presumed consent system that would see everyone become an automatic donor.
This would require residents to opt out of the donation circuit, compared to the current system, which depends upon people signing up.
Clarence indicated he would welcome the change, saying it was “something that is needed” as it would drastically increase donor numbers.
The proposition though has come under fire, with some suggesting it could violate people's rights.
“I don’t think we are going to be taking their rights away from them because they can still opt out,” he argued. “Instead of having to say yes, they just have to say no.”
He added this system would fundamentally save lives, allowing organs to be harvested when the time arises and would remove the pressure from doctors having to approach families in order to gain consent.
“We cannot take our organs with us. Once you pass on, your organs are no good to you. So giving them, sharing them and having some compassion can prevent another family having to go through what you are going through,” he said.
“As much as it hurts to lose Karen... I was so proud to know that she was an organ donor and changed people's lives.”
Ahead of this month, the Karen Pilon Organ Donor Awareness Foundation has been posting stories from organ donors, recipients and those on transplant waitlists to their Facebook page as a way to always be getting the word out.
“I know we are getting out there. I have had people from Jamaica, the U.S. and all across Canada send us messages. I know we are touching people and reaching people, but it is now to try and get them to sign their cards and become registered donors,” Clarence said.
Starting Friday, the group will be at the Victoria Hospital for their annual taco-in-a-bag sale and will be around the community in various other ways to raise funds and encourage people to register.
“The best advice I could give to anybody is that if you truly, truly want to be an organ donor, talk to your loved ones…. the more people that know, the better chance you are going to get your wish,” Clarence said.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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