Organ Donation Awareness Month is recognized across Canada in April each year, but for the past two years April 7 has had extra significance in the campaign to increase registered donors.
Green Shirt Day is championed by the parents of Logan Boulet, a 21-year-old hockey player who was one of 16 people who died as a result of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in 2018. Boulet had registered as an organ donor just weeks before the accident and had spoken to his father about his wishes a year before. His donation saved six people’s lives.
Thousands of people across the country and around the world were inspired to register as organ donors themselves after hearing about this act, which became known as the “Logan Boulet Effect.” The Boulet family launched Green Shirt Day to mark the day Logan became an organ donor and continue that momentum with the Broncos’ jersey as emblem.
The ability to find a positive in the aftermath of so much tragedy is something two Salt Spring families have experienced first-hand, due to their own experiences with organ donation. The unexpected deaths of Justin Reynolds when he was only 22 and Alistair Hayne when just 16 were terrible losses, and yet their families have found comfort in the fact that many other lives were saved as a result.
“Annual organ donation month and week sort of allows us donor families to talk about our sons and bring their names to light and tell everyone what happened — and that there is light,” said Alistair’s mother Emma Hayne. “Through it we have been resilient and we have actually thrived, in part because of this donation.”
“Life is very meaningful, and the gift of life is very meaningful. It’s very, very significant,” added Justin’s mother Jenny McClean. “And it’s meaningful every moment of the day. It’s not a one-time thing.”
In 2019, 480 lives were saved in British Columbia thanks to the gifts of 117 deceased donors. In addition, there were 120 living donor kidney transplants. Since organs can be used after only one per cent of deaths, it’s important to have as many potential donors as possible signed up with BC Transplant’s Organ Donor Registry.
If someone dies without being registered, their family members can decide for them. Both McClean and the Haynes were abruptly faced with this decision while their sons were in hospital. Justin Reynolds, a Gulf Islands Secondary School graduate who had worked for several years at Moonstruck Cheese, suffered an unexplained cardiac arrest in 2016.
“We were asked about organ donation when he was on life support,” McClean said. “It’s a very hard thing to think about but it can make a difference between life and death and it can also make a huge difference in someone’s quality of life.”
The family knew Justin was positive about organ donation, because he had once talked about it with his sister Bonnie when he was 16. They learned afterward that he was able to pass on his eyes, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys. His lungs went to a young man with cerebral palsy who had a similar height and build.
“They were able to make a match so he was able to continue living,” McClean said.
The Haynes similarly had to make a quick decision in 2017 after their son was accidentally shot on Salt Spring and died the next day at BC Children’s Hospital.
They provided anonymous letters about Alistair through BC Transplant for the recipients to read, and have heard back (also anonymously) from two of the five people who were saved by his gift. One letter came from a single mother of a young teen, who received a kidney after the accident. Another letter came from a middle-aged woman who needed a liver and was able to take a new path in life.
“Both of them were profoundly grateful,” Hayne said.
While the identities of specific recipients and their donors are protected for privacy purposes, there is connection in a more general way through BC Transplant events. The Haynes have met organ recipients that way and heard how grateful they are to talk with any donor families. They have also been able to spend time as volunteers, meet other families like themselves, and keep the memories of their loved one alive.
McClean and Emma Hayne have become good friends because of this shared experience. In the process they realized their families have homes in the same neighbourhood and their boys would have played on the same beach. They also realized Justin died on May 11, which was Alistair’s birthday.
Finding these connections both close to home and within the wider B.C. transplant community has been instrumental for their path forward after tragedy.
“We didn’t realize how influential it would be to our healing process. Getting to share that community has been really helpful,” said Alistair’s sister Olivia Hayne. “Seeing how sick people have been and how their quality of life has been and seeing their life now is really incredible . . . There’s a lot of love between recipients and donors.”
“This is a story of connection and love,” Emma Hayne agreed. “It’s about two island boys, both of whom had unbridled energies; it’s the story of how friendships have been made out of this. It’s a powerful gift to us to be part of this.”
Anyone in British Columbia can register to be an organ donor with BC Transplant, including people who are under 19 years old, as long as their parents sign off. The online process for adults can be completed in two minutes. Talking about the idea first is a good start.
“It’s important to have the conversation,” said Olivia Hayne. “Our family was thrown into this situation. We weren’t expecting it — we weren’t aware of what our loved ones wanted. Just starting the conversation around organ donation is really important, I think, and getting people signed up.”
For more information or to register as a donor, visit transplant.bc.ca.
The Driftwood has also published a story about Barb and Michael Levy, siblings who recently marked the 10-year anniversary of Barb’s donation of a kidney to Michael.