Building an alliance
Province and WRHA launching program to increase organ donation rates
Posted By By Jennifer Pawluk
Transplant Manitoba, through its Gift of Life program, has one key mandate - to improve organ-donation services in Manitoba.
Thanks to provincial funding announced by Health Minister Theresa Oswald mid-August, Transplant Manitoba's goal of making transplant care more accessible is closer to being met.
As the fourth and final phase in a plan to increase the rate of organ donation in Manitoba, Transplant Manitoba hopes to have a team of round-the-clock organ-donation specialists fully operational by the end of this year.
The $360,000 project is just one part of a $4.6 million initiative for the province and WRHA. Meanwhile, comparing costs, an increase in kidney transplants could save Manitoba Health millions in dialysis expenses.
Manitoba's team of organ-donation specialists will be the first of its kind in Canada. Dr. Peter Nickerson, medical director for Transplant Manitoba, says this level of care has resulted in a world-best rate of about 30 donors per million in Spain, where this model for transplant services was originally developed. Italy and Australia also offer similar services, he added.
Upon attending the International Congress of the Transplantation Society in Vancouver two weeks ago, Nickerson said representatives from other provinces were pleased to see Manitoba taking on a leadership role in providing transplant services.
"We're hoping that'll be a kick-start to the rest of the country to move in this direction," Nickerson said.
Not only will these specialists, some of whom have already been identified, consult with critical care specialists in the ER and ICU, they will also act as a province-wide educational resource, said Nickerson.
Canadian Blood Services is developing a national strategy for organ donation to be released this fall. Manitoba is simply taking preliminary steps to meet those standards, Nickerson added.
Qualification for organ donation is a rare event, he stressed. Our provincial rate sits at 14.5 organ donors per million, on par with the national average. But, he continued, Manitoba has a lot of wasted potential for organ donation.
"We, in Manitoba, have the potential for 50 donors per million," Nickerson said. "We have a long ways to go."
All-too-often after a tragedy happens, loved ones agonize over the decision to donate organs all the while dealing with their loss, Nickerson said. Aside from the added stress this incurs to families, opportunities for organ donation are also missed. The tragedy is two-fold."Every Manitoban should fill out an organ donation card and share their wishes with their family," said Oswald in a statement Aug. 10. "This could be one of the most important conversations one ever has with their loved ones, and it could save many lives."
A transplant can extend the life of someone suffering from kidney failure by as much as 15 to 20 years while improving quality of life; something Selkirk resident, Judy Maryniuk knows firsthand.
An untreated bout of strep throat at age seven caused Maryniuk kidney problems. During her Grade-12 year, she underwent dialysis treatment for six months before receiving a kidney transplant in 1979. The donor? Her father.
The transplant was something her parents talked about amongst themselves without any hesitation, Maryniuk recalled.
She considers herself "very lucky." Treated at the Health Sciences Centre, she goes for check-ups every four months and praises the level of service in Manitoba.
"It gives you a whole new outlook on life," Maryniuk insists. "You can lead a normal life... I've got my children. My family."
"(Organ donation) just makes a world of difference," said Maryniuk.
Stonewall's Kelly Goodman, who received a kidney from a deceased donor in 1986, agrees. Most recipients are so grateful and will try to stay healthy, she says.
"It opens your eyes to how lucky you are to have that second chance."
"You kind of think they gave their life up for you and lots of other people," Goodman said. "It's the ultimate gift of life. That's why they call it that. Gift of lives it should be."
Though she has never met her donor's family, Goodman hopes to one day. She wrote them a letter once and received an anonymous reply from the mother.