Transplant recipients share gratitude as organ donations in British Columbia hit record high

The gift of organ donation is infinite and affects more than just the recipient, says double lung transplant recipient

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Life can change in an instant. You could be in your garage, working on a friend’s brakes, when the call comes that will save your life. This call, which will bring relief and joy to your family, comes because in another place, another family is having the worst day of their life.

He has less than 24 hours to get to Vancouver for a liver transplant.

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“My wife and I took the last ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver, slept a few hours in a hotel and arrived at Vancouver General at 9 a.m.,” said Kevin Tucker of Courtenay BC.

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The 50-year-old father of two was diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease a few years ago and appeared to be on the road to recovery until a routine follow-up ultrasound found a mass in his liver that turned out to be inoperable cancer.

“Tell me where I need to be,” Tucker said the moment he received the call.

Without the liver transplant last August, he would have died.

Tucker is deeply grateful. “Now I will be able to be close to my children, my wife and my family.”

Kevin Tucker is an organ recipient
Kevin Tucker is an organ recipient Photo by Kevin Tucker /Sent

Tucker received one of 563 organ transplants performed in British Columbia in 2023, a record, according to BC Transplant, a Provincial Health Services Authority program that works with the province’s three transplant centers. They included 112 liver transplants, 353 kidney transplants, 22 heart transplants, eight combined kidney and pancreas transplants, and 77 lung transplants.

Ryan Burke, a 27-year-old lung recipient from Lions Bay, is still absorbing the profound impacts of the transplant that saved his life last April.

Burke was an active carpenter who loved to hike, paddle, and ski when suddenly, at age 25, he began experiencing severe shortness of breath. In 2021, he was diagnosed with late-stage idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare progressive disease of unknown origin.

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He had surgery and began taking medication, including an intravenous treatment that he carried in his vest pocket. Walking, especially in the beloved mountain forests of Lions Bay, became extremely difficult, and the The prognosis was that he would not live more than a couple of years.

“Death was imminent,” Burke said.

His only hope was a double lung transplant.

At first he hesitated.

“I wasn’t sure it was going to be successful,” Burke said. “But it was the only option.”

Ryan Burke is an organ recipient.
Ryan Burke is an organ recipient. Photo by Ryan Burke /Sent

He credits the VGH transplant team for advising him during the process.

“I trusted them, they were professional, optimistic and informative. They said he was a good candidate. I knew they knew what was best for me,” Burke said.

“I gave them my faith.”

About four months after joining the waitlist, he got the call.

“I thought, ‘Here we go,’” Burke said.

I would never meet the donor (in Canada, donor families maintain anonymity), but I knew that somewhere a family was grieving.

“It’s bittersweet,” Burke said. What you want the donor’s family to know is that their loved one’s selfless gift didn’t just save a life.

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“They saved my entire family who saw me suffer. The scope of this is endless,” Burke said.

Less than six months after the transplant, he was able to climb Stawamus Chief, go rowing and, most recently, go on a ski trip with 16 of his closest friends.

He has recovered his life.

Michael Brown, a 36-year-old man who died in a surfing accident in Tofino, was one of 160 deceased donors who helped save lives in British Columbia last year.

“Michael always tried to live life to the fullest,” his wife Jaclyn Ko said in a statement. “One of his most enduring traits was his unwavering commitment to caring for those in need. Now, through organ donation, his legacy of compassion lives on.”

Michael Brown is an organ donor
Michael Brown is an organ donor Brown and Jaclyn Ko family photo. /Sent

“Living donors who choose to undergo surgery to save a life, and deceased donors and their families who make such a brave decision in the midst of their profound loss, are truly inspiring, along with all the healthcare professionals who support donation.” and organ transplantation throughout the province. BC Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement.

Eric Lun, executive director of BC Transplant, said donors should think carefully about their decision and record their wishes in the BC Transplant Website.

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BC is one of the leading jurisdictions for organ donation and transplants in Canada, with nearly one in 30 British Columbians registered as organ donors.

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