Organ transplants save lives in B.C.
Sid Popham likely wouldn't be alive today without an organ donor.
At 64 years of age, Popham was an active and fit Comox man who regularly played tennis and hockey. But one day during a tennis match, he collapsed suddenly on the court.
The problem was his heart, and doctors tried everything they could think of to keep him alive, including a pacemaker and defibrillator. However, nothing worked, and Popham was told he only had one chance left.
"The doctor said, 'Sid we've done everything we can for you. The only thing that might save you is a heart transplant, and nobody can be sure you can get a heart transplant just because you want one because of a lack of organs,'" said Popham. "It was made very clear to me that if this transplant didn't come through I would not be seeing many more weeks or months."
Now, 12 years later at 76, Popham is "disgustingly healthy," and he's back to playing tennis and hockey regularly — he actually got hit in the neck with a puck the day before his interview.
But Popham considers himself "a very, very lucky man."
Many people do not receive the organ they need to live because of a lack of organ donors in BC. According the BC Transplant's website, more than 300 British Columbians are awaiting organ transplants at any given time because "the need far outweighs the number of organs available for transplant."
Popham was an organ donor many years before he found out that he needed a heart transplant. But now, having seen first-hand how necessary organ donation is, Popham's adamant that people need to sign up as organ donors while they have the ability to make their own decision.
When someone is dying "it's really hard on their survivors to make the decision about whether or not they should donate," said Popham. "So if you make your wishes clear then it saves the survivors an anguishing decision.
"Probably we lose organs because (survivors) make the wrong decision there, because they don't know what the deceased would have liked."
National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week started Sunday and runs through until Saturday, and BC Transplant's website www.transplant.bc.ca has a whole slew of information related to organ donation, as well as an online donor registry. Or, call 1-800-663-6189 to obtain a hard copy registration.
Popham added that even if one organ is not useful for transplant — for example a bad heart — many other organs could still be used, such as the liver and kidneys.
He also mentioned there's a certain mystique surrounding organ transplants; he is extremely grateful to the donor's family and wrote to them a number of times telling them what his new heart means to him, but said that the heart he received is simply a muscle.
"I feel that what the donor's family gave me was the donor's heart muscle," said Popham, adding that he is still he exact same person as he was before he received a new heart. "I feel very strongly that the donor's spirit remains with his family and loved ones where it belongs."
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• There is a chronic shortage of hearts, lungs, kidneys and livers for transplant in B.C., as the need far outweighs the number of organs available for transplant. More than 300 British Columbians awaiting organ transplants and hundreds more are awaiting corneal transplants.
• Some organs that could be available for transplant are lost because the decision of the loved one is not known by their family.
• Many of those waiting for a solid organ transplant die while waiting for a suitable transplant.
• Survival rates of transplant patients continue to improve, providing recipients with an extended and high quality of life.
• Transplants are cost-effective. For those with kidney disease, the average cost of dialysis treatment is $50,000 a year. By comparison, the one-time cost of a kidney transplant in B.C. is approximately $20,000, with an additional yearly cost of about $6,000 for anti-rejection medications.
• Since 1968, when the first kidney transplant was performed in B.C., more than 4,700 transplants have been performed in B.C.
• 1999 was the first year where more living donor kidney transplants were performed than deceased donor kidney transplants.