People from all walks of life gathered at City Hall on Wednesday with one thing in common: their lives have all been affected by organ donation.

April 21st to 27th has been declared Organ Donation Awareness Week in Timmins, and the subject is one that not many talk about but it affects a large number of residents right here in Timmins.

Kim Bazinet, TADH Lead for the Trillium Organ Donation process, says that of our population in Timmins, 51% of residents are registered as organ donors, a much higher rate than in Southern Ontario.

“We’re the City with the heart of gold and we like to give,” said Bazinet. “People are very generous and people are very caring. We’re a very caring population. I think it’s because we’re also aware of the challenges.”

Every year, hospitals reach out to the public and try to increase awareness and registration for organ donation. While some might be hesitant to talk about the subject, one person in Timmins had her mind completely changed about organ donation when she went through the process with her son.

Lesley Tinney is a Patient Family Advisory Committee Member at the hospital and she spreads the word and creates awareness within the community to support the process. She lived through the event with her son, Aaron, who was a donor at the facility.

“She advocates for the patient and family,” said Bazinet, “and she advocates in helping us respect the patient’s right to autonomy, and even in death, respect their consent to organ donation.”

Tinney was not always supportive of organ donation. In fact, when approached with her son’s wishes to donate his organs, she wanted to override his decision.

“When my son was on life support,” Tinney said, “I said to my husband, don’t let the nurses near me. Because I don’t want to talk about organ donation. I said I’m not donating organs. And my son had signed. But I could override it. And so I said no. So, the third day into it, I said to my husband we’re going to cremate him. If we’re going to cremate him, it’s kind of selfish not to let him do what he wants with his organs. And so we said ok. […] And I actually know where his heart is. And we’re friends with his heart.”

Tinney’s son donated five organs and saved four lives and his parents are now friends with the owner of his heart. Tinney says she is happy she changed her mind about organ donation.

“I absolutely think,” she said, “don’t selfishly think that you can just hold on to it. Because it’s going into the ground or into the urn. And you can do so much. One person can save eight lives.”

There’s a fear surrounding this topic, especially because it involves death. Tinney says it’s important to keep spreading awareness about the life saving process of organ donation.

“People are afraid,” she said tearfully, “it’s easy to be afraid of what you don’t know. And death is a sad thing. It’s not always a sad thing. And sometimes it’s a release. And sometimes it is freeing for them to be able to…my son lives on in four other people.”

As of April 16th, there are 1,665 people in Ontario waiting for a life saving organ. So changed are her thoughts on the process that Tinney has reached out to Gilles Bisson and is now advocating for a process to opt out of organ donation instead of signing consent to be a donor.

The subject, though uncomfortable, is still important.

“Death is not something that people are comfortable speaking about,” said Bazinet, “but I think it’s very important that as individuals we tell our family members what our wishes are. If you signed your organ donor card, it’s imperative that your family is aware of that so they’re not left guessing at the end of the day.”

Bazinet says that although it’s a horrible process for a parent or loved one to go through, there is some hope that comes out of that process. There’s comfort in the fact that those who donate their organs affect other people’s lives and part of them live on in that way.

Tinney echoes those sentiments. “It’s very meaningful. I don’t feel like he’s gone anymore. I feel like he’s all over, literally.”

For those who are on the fence about the organ donation process, for themselves or a loved one, Tinney has three words: “Cross the fence.”

You can learn more about organ donation by contacting TADH. You can also go to the Canadian Blood Services website. 

Living donors are also needed across Ontario, for kidneys, livers and bone marrow. Lorna Green, Manager of the Renal Unit at TADH says the problem around this process is approaching the subject if you need a living donor.

“It was about how do you ask and when do you ask and who do you ask,” Green said, “and it’s expanding that circle of not just your relatives and close friends but expanding out and out. Which I think Lise has been doing.”

Lise St. Jean is waiting to find a living donor match for a kidney transplant. She’s hoping to find one before she needs dialyses so she can go straight to surgery. She remains optimistic.

“I’m doing not too bad,” St. Jean said, “I’m still holding on. So hopefully one day there will be a match.”

Staff at TADH have training on how to approach organ donation with patients, and patients receive a pamphlet with information if they are considering it. Green says the Ontario Renal Network recognizes the access challenges here in the north for organ donation. Some people have to go to the transplant hospital for 6-8 weeks to complete the process and have a follow-up appointment. But, she says they’ve been more and more supportive in providing funding and assistance to help patients get there easier and sooner.

For more information on becoming a living donor for kidneys, you can go here.

There’s also more information about transplants and living donations here.

There will be an Annual Organ Donation Walk in Timmins on August 17th at Gillies Lake. All those who support this process are asked to come out from 8 AM to 12 PM and spread awareness about the life changing gift of organ donation.

Filed under: Local News