photo: Sam Edwards/iStock

Put Organ Donation at the Top of Your To-Do List

By Craig Moy

Organ donation is often on Kevin Chornohos’s mind. As a registry supervisor at AMA’s Camrose centre, one of his many jobs is to help Albertans register for or renew their driver’s licence. Part of that process includes encouraging each person to add themselves to the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry—especially during National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week, from April 21 to 27. Despite broad support, in practice only about 20 percent of Canadians have registered their intent to donate.

Chornohos comes by his advocacy honestly. In 2006, and again in 2012, he was the recipient of a corneal transplant to alleviate his keratoconus, an eye disease that caused his (normally round) corneas to grow progressively cone-like, severely distorting his vision.

“It’s important for me to talk about because corneas are kind of lower on the totem pole—the kind of donation that not a lot of people think of,” he says. Another less obvious donation? Skin. Burn victims often benefit from skin grafts, which can be taken from donors of any age.

“A person might say, ‘I’m not going to donate because I have a heart condition,’ but it isn’t just about the heart, kidneys and lungs,” Chornohos says. “There are other things that can end up making a real difference for people like me.”

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That was certainly the case with Logan Boulet. The Lethbridge-born junior hockey player was among the 16 people who died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash last April. But Boulet’s decision to register as an organ donor meant that six other Canadians could continue to live.

His gift inspired more than 100,000 people to register as donors in the weeks immediately following the Humboldt tragedy. One year later, Boulet’s family reinvigorated the “Logan Boulet Effect” by inaugurating Green Shirt Day on April 7. Likewise, National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week amplifies the message that registered donors are critically needed across the country.

AMA has supported Alberta’s donation registry since it was introduced in 2014. “We encourage our agents to talk about it with as many members as they can,” says Brian Salter, business support specialist with AMA Registries. “And we hope that on the anniversary of the Humboldt accident, and given Logan Boulet’s example, that people will consider that as a good opportunity to sign up to be a donor.”

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If you are so inspired, registering is as easy as filling out a form at any AMA centre, where Registries employees are available to answer any questions you may have about signing up, and can also update your driver’s licence with a heart logo, symbolizing your donor status. Alternatively, you can sign up online through Alberta Health.

As you consider registering as an organ donor, Salter recommends taking one additional step: Talking to your loved ones.

“Make sure your family is aware of your wishes,” he says. “Have a conversation with them—so that if something terrible does happen, there won’t be any question about what it is that you wanted.”