April 22-28 marks National Organ and Tissue Donation Week in Canada — a week dedicated to raising awareness about the critical needs of patients across the country.
Thirty years ago, Crystal Prowse of St John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, was an 11-year-old waiting for a heart transplant. And 30 years ago, thanks to the generosity of a donor and their family, Crystal’s life changed forever.
"I have so many things to be grateful for and so many stars that lined up for me to have a transplant. It's actually quite amazing to me."
In celebration of those 30 years, Crystal's goal is to get the message out.
"I recognize that people are uncomfortable having the conversation about organ donation, but it's a conversation that needs to be had."
She knows first-hand how great the need. At age 11, she found out that to fix her sick heart the only option was transplant. She was assessed at University Hospital in London, Ontario and later moved there to wait and hope for a transplant. She and her family waited for four months for that life-saving call letting them know that a donor organ had become available.
When you're a child waiting for a transplant, everything is big and scary.
"All I wanted was to go home and play with my friends," says Crystal. "Even though I was afraid, I was looking past it to the point where I could get home and back to my life. The hope of getting back to life is what you hang on to."
At the time Crystal was the youngest heart transplant recipient in Newfoundland, and she believes she may well have been the very first heart transplant patient from the Janeway Children's Hospital in St. John's.
“When I was a kid and I was sick, my mother used to joke that when I got better I was going to have a baby brother or sister," explained Crystal. "Ten months after my transplant my baby brother was born. So, he was like my little reward. And, now, 30 years later he just had a little baby of his own! Now I have a little niece who is the light of my life."
Crystal has a collection of wonderful memories, every memory made possible because of her transplant.
Top row, left to right: Crystal in hospital about one year before transplant; Crystal with members of her care team a few days post transplant; Crystal with her mom a few months post transplant. Bottom row, left to right: Crystal and her family a year post transplant; Crystal and her husband on their wedding day; Crystal, her brother and her brand new baby niece.
Academically, she’s excelled, acquiring several degrees. She has a rewarding career as a respiratory therapist, a role that sometimes allows her to work with transplant patients. She fell in love and was able to get married with all of her family around her.
And, she's become part of a caring and supportive community through transplant. A community of people who understand the magnitude of organ donation and the human connection that goes with it.
"My pediatric cardiologist and my cardiac surgeon were both at my wedding," says Crystal. "My cardiologist's wife made my wedding dress. It's like we have our own little transplant family."
Crystal has had a remarkable life and is continuing to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation, hoping her efforts will help the many people who are still waiting and needing a transplant.
She's living proof of the power of organ donation, and hopes to inspire others to lend support for national efforts like National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week and programs that help bring access to transplant for patients where ever they happen to live.
"Organ donation is such a selfless gift and to be around people who appreciate that... it's pretty amazing."
Thirty years of memories, thanks to one organ donor... pretty amazing indeed.
Over 4,500 Canadians are currently in need of an organ transplant and, every year, more than 250 people die waiting. this week is all about making sure you’ve registered your decision and having that important conversation with friends and loved ones to ensure that your organ donation wishes and decisions are understood.
Canadians are encouraged to register / confirm their intent to donate at organtissuedonation.ca
Organ donation organizations across Canada and Canadian Blood Services are working together this week to inspire Canadians to register their intent to donate and talk to their families about their decision.
Green ribbons, or green lit landmarks (April 25th is National Green Light Day), will pop up across Canada this week to acknowledge and honour the donors and donor families who gave the gift of life. They also acknowledge the thousands of patients in need of a transplant and those who have died waiting.
Simple ways to help:
- Register your decision to donate at organtissuedonaton.ca
- Talk to your family about your decision to donate and ask them about their wishes.
- Add a NOTDAW frame to your Facebook profile
- Join the online conversation and encourage others to register — here’s a simple message to get you started: “Talk to your family about organ and tissue donation, make sure they know your decision. #GiveLife #NOTDAW”
Related blog posts
Every day in Canada, more than 4,600 people are waiting for news that a donor has been found. Everad Tilokee shares his transplant journey during National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week.