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CambridgeTimes Article: Time to talk about organ donations: recipient

Time to talk about organ donations: recipient

Registering organ donor consent saves difficult family decisions

It may not be a comfortable conversation for some people, but it’s an important one that’s taking place in many Cambridge households, and elsewhere, thanks to the courageous struggle of 14-year-old Kayla Baker.

The local high school student recently underwent a lung transplant, after being on the waiting list for about two years, and experiencing a sharp downturn in her health that brought her fate into question just days before a suitable donor was found.

While she received a lung, many individuals remain on a waiting list — 4,000 nationally, 1,500 across Ontario and a dozen right here in Cambridge. Some, like Baker, remain on the list for years. Some don’t live long enough to receive a transplant (195 Canadians died  last year alone).

“We’re here today to celebrate Kayla Baker. … We’re very excited to hear that she got her transplant,” Andrea Clegg, a Cambridge resident and co-founder of the Life Donation Awareness Association of Mid-West Ontario, said following a news conference at Central Park in Preston last Friday.

“(Organ donation) is a very important health issue that we really need to consider. It impacts more people than we might expect.”

In fact, Clegg is a recipient. She underwent a heart transplant about two years ago.

“I’m very grateful for the gift that was given to me,” Clegg said. “The reason that we have registration is because at that moment, when your loved one passes, it is very tragic and people don’t know the conversations that will happen.”

That scenario rings true for Janine Thompson, also of Cambridge, whose father became an organ donor after he died.

“I do think it is really important to talk to your family members. It’s often a time when you’re dealing with a lot of things coming at you, a lot of decisions have to be made,” she said.

“My dad didn’t have formal consent signed, so my brother and I just sort of made the decision on what we knew of him and kind of hoped that we were doing the right thing.”

In her case, there was a three-day wait between making the decision and the donations themselves, which extended the grieving process. Nonetheless, she has no regrets.

“Four other people, through his eyes, his kidneys and his liver have had the opportunity to live and they’re out doing amazing things like Andrea, and now like Kayla,” Thompson said.

According to government statistics, less than one-quarter of eligible organ donors have registered their consent across the province. In order to be eligible, donors must be at least 16 years old and have a valid Ontario Health Card.

To register your consent, visit

“I’ve been waiting three years,” fellow Cambridge resident, and co-founder of Life Donation Awareness Association of Mid-West Ontario, Pam Ditner said of a needed heart transplant.

“I have good days and I have less than good days, but I try to stay positive. I’m sure it’ll happen, because they’re out there looking.

“This week has just been fabulous – the awareness that has been raised in such a positive way.”

Inspired by Baker’s struggle, Coun. Karl Kiefer joined members of the Life Donation Awareness Association of Mid-West Ontario in issuing a challenge to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and residents of his city – by default, the challenge also went out to Cambridge residents as well – to increase the rate of registered organ donors.

According to, Toronto ranks 170 out of 179 when it comes to the percentage of residents registered to be a donor. Of the 2.4 million registered health card holders, only 333,970 or 14 per cent have officially consented to be organ and tissue donors.

In comparison, of the 111,810 registered health card holders in Cambridge, 31,810 or 28 per cent have signed up to be organ donors, ranking the city at 78th in the province.

“The Go Green for Kayla campaign definitely has people talking. Two hundred, seventy-five people registered their consent online on Friday and 429 more checked to make sure their wishes were recorded,” said Carol Thorman, who works with the Life Donation Awareness Association of Mid-West Ontario.

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