Organ recipients like Stephanie Jolink encourage Canadians to register their intent

APRIL 19, 2021 (OTTAWA) – National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (NOTDAW), April 18– 24, is dedicated to raising awareness for organ and tissue donation and transplantation. It’s an opportunity to recognize those who have donated to save others, celebrate those who have received lifesaving transplants, inspire Canadians to register their intent to become organ and tissue donors and have that all important talk with their families.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has had an impact on registration. In-person registrations and awareness campaigns were halted because of COVID-19 restrictions, and registrations are down 39 per cent from 2019.

NOTDAW is a chance to celebrate recipients like 13-year-old Stephanie Jolink who received her lifesaving kidney during the pandemic, thanks to her former babysitter and neighbour. Meaghan Kay decided to donate her kidney to Stephanie but wasn’t a match. She was determined to help Stephanie, so she engaged in Canadian Blood Services’ Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) program.

“The Kidney Paired Donation program matches transplant candidates with other living donors, when the intended donor is not a match. One of the most common reasons that a pair comes into KPD is because a potential donor may not be compatible with their intended recipient, as in Stephanie and Meaghan’s case,” said Sarah Parfeniuk, manager of the KPD program at Canadian Blood Services.

Animated video: How Direct Donation, Paired Exchange, Closed Chains, Domino Chains work

At age nine, Stephanie learned she had chronic kidney failure and faced years of dialysis as treatment to keep her kidneys healthy. The Ontario girl was active in dance, swimming, horseback riding and skating, and a thriving student who loved hanging out with her friends. Dialysis meant she had to miss a lot of school, and swimming wasn’t possible anymore, due to the central line in her heart.

When Meaghan found out Stephanie needed a new kidney, she didn’t hesitate to help.

“I wanted to do this for Stephanie because she wasn’t leading a normal life of a pre-teen. She had to leave school three days a week to be in the hospital for dialysis. Now she gets to go swimming and have a normal teenage life. She doesn’t have to be stuck near a dialysis machine,” said Meaghan.

“I think people should think about being an organ donor because you are saving someone’s life and helping them tremendously,” said Stephanie. “My life has improved because of organ donors. I went swimming for the first time in three years and I can’t wait until the summer because I’ll be able to go swimming with my friends.”

Not everyone is able to receive a donation from a living donor, therefore many Canadians waiting for transplants are relying on registered organ donors and on families honouring their loved one’s wishes to donate organs and tissues after death.

Register your intent to be an organ and tissue donor through your province or territory, talk to your family about your decision and take some time to learn more about living organ donation.