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Green Shirt Day still inspiring spikes in Sask. organ donor numbers

Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Green Shirt Day in Saskatchewan and across the country — a day to raise awareness around the life-saving effects of being an organ donor.

Saskatchewan mother Kyla Thomson said it can be a difficult thing for people to accept that tissue and organ donors cannot always be living.

“If more people can understand it, then more kids like Bella have a chance at surviving,” she said. “If we can keep the conversation going and help everyone understand what that means for recipients and donors then it also means saving lives.”

Click to play video: 'Green Shirt Day designer talks about her own organ transplant journey'

Green Shirt Day designer talks about her own organ transplant journey

Thomson’s daughter Bella was waiting for a life-saving bowel transplant.

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In August, she received it.

Bella was living with bowel failure and developing superior vena cava (SVC) syndrome. She also has needed tissue, blood and plasma donations throughout her whole life to keep her alive.

Thomson said through initiatives like Green Shirt Day and sharing her daughter’s story, she has seen the positive effects of awareness spreading across the province.

“I’m happy to educate, but I’m also happy to see that I need to do that less and less as more people are aware,” she said.

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Green Shirt Day began a year after Humboldt Broncos junior hockey player Logan Boulet was killed in 2018 along with 15 others in a bus crash that rocked the nation. Thirteen others suffered serious injuries.

Before he died, Logan told his family that he wanted to be an organ donor. His organs saved the lives of six people.

Click to play video: 'On one year anniversary of Humboldt bus crash guests discuss importance of organ donation'

On one year anniversary of Humboldt bus crash guests discuss importance of organ donation

Six years after the crash and five after the creation of Green Shirt Day, Logan’s family said they feel proud to see his legacy continue.

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“It makes a big difference to know that the story is continuing,” said Logan’s mother Bernadine Boulet. “It hasn’t lost its momentum or its impact and inspiration.”

She said it’s a lot easier to talk about organ donation now compared to six years ago.

Logan’s father Toby Boulet said getting to share Logan’s story has been a part of their grieving journey.

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“Green Shirt Day is a very important part of the whole package but the main part is Logan, his legacy, and how we can (help Canadians) say ‘I want to be an organ donor.’”

Thomson said she couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child but would hope that by agreeing to organ donation, people can find healing knowing they are saving others.

“Amidst trauma for both sides, there is healing,” she said.

Saskatchewan transplant surgeon Dr. Mike Moser said a single donor can save up to eight lives through solid organ transplants. He said tissues can save up to 50 people.

“These people are very ill,” he said of transplant recipients. “They are not functioning anywhere near to 100 per cent. Most of them, it doesn’t matter what the disease is, are very, very tired, unable to work, unable to take part in a lot of their day-to-day activities and spend a lot of time in hospital.”

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He said people can be on transplant waiting lists for up to a decade, but three days after a transplant, people tell him it’s the best they have felt in years.

“By the time they leave the operating room with us, thanks to the gift of a donor, someone who has given the gift of life, you can already see that the organ is working.”

The Ministry of Health said that as of March 30, 2024, there are more than 29,000 registered organ donors in the province. The registry launched in September 2020. At least 8,700 new donors registered in the last year.

“This significant increase in registrations is due, in part, to the eHealth health-care renewal sticker mailout that went to all households in Saskatchewan in 2023,” read a statement from the ministry. “The envelope containing the stickers also contained a separate piece of paper explaining the benefits of organ donation, as well as a link and QR code for the registry.”

Moser said conversations around donation with family are equally as important.

“At the current time, organ donation still cannot happen until the next of kin signs a consent form and we don’t know what is going to happen to us,” he said. “Tragedies can happen at a moment’s notice so that is why April is a good time to have that conversation, so our families are ready if an unexpected tragedy does happen.”

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