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COLUMN: Life – it’s the ultimate gift

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Tara Jeffrey

When Sarnia’s Tara Bourque received her much-anticipated call for new lungs last month — on the eve of her 25th birthday — she took to social media to ask a favour from her 5,000+ followers.

“My potential donor is going into surgery this afternoon,” she wrote, amid the chaos of packing for Toronto for life-saving surgery.

“So please pray, send condolences, well wishes to my donor and their family in this terrible time in their lives.

“We hope that their organs are viable so that they may enjoy the peace of mind knowing their loved one helped others in their passing.”

Anyone who knows Tara wasn’t surprised by this in the least. It’s just like her to selflessly think of others. Two people who chose to do the same have given her the gift of life.

The first set of donor lungs she received in 2012 gave her six years of life — milestones, family celebrations, an engagement.

Now, breathing easy with a second transplant behind her, she has even more to look forward to: travel, work, more milestones, a wedding.

Right now, more than 1,500 people in Ontario are listed for a life-saving organ transplant, and every three days someone will die waiting. Only 33% of Ontarians are registered donors — that’s 4.1 million out of an eligible 12.3 million.

But things are improving. Nearly 1,000 Canadians signed up to become organ donors following the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April; one of the victims had signed a donor card before the accident, and wound up saving six lives.

Locally, registration numbers have surged in recent years, thanks in no small part to the Sarnia Organ Donor Awareness group (SODA). In the 15 years since launching its flagship fundraiser — Jazz & Blues in the Village — Sarnia’s registration rate has nearly doubled, to 50%.

And in terms of individual donor drives, Tara is ranked fourth in the province — resulting in some 1,300 new registrations through her Trillium Gift of Life page.

Anyone 16 and older can register online, by mail or in person at ServiceOntario kiosks, and it’s crucial to let your family know your wishes.

In Ontario, families are asked to “reaffirm” the consent of their loved ones before donation is approved. While most families choose to honour those wishes, a recent Toronto Star report revealed the number of families who override their loved ones’ consent to donate is on the rise. In 2015, 21% of donor families refused consent.

Tara plans to write a letter to her donor’s family through Trillium, but cannot include any identifying information. It’s a process she understands, but admits is hard.

“It’s difficult to ‘de-personalize’ something like that,” she said. “When you’re thanking someone for literally giving you life.”

For more information on organ and tissue donation, visit sarniaorgandonors.ca

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