Pamela Harper holds a picture of her daughter, Katherine Paine, who died two years ago after waiting too long for a heart transplant. Ronald Zajac/Staff Writer
Pamela Harper has been working hard to make sure other parents don’t suffer a loss as terrible as her own.
She hopes the fruits of that labor will take the form of signatures at an organ donation awareness event next weekend.
“The main thing is the registration drive,” said Harper, organizer of the Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness and Registration Drive taking place at St. Mary Catholic High School on Sunday, Apr. 26.
The event will feature guest speakers, a “living green ribbon” and efforts to get as many people as possible to sign organ donation consent forms.
Harper believes more signatures on donation forms might have prevented the tragic loss of her daughter, Katherine Paine, to whom the event is dedicated.
Katherine, who was 12 and a St. Mary student when she died, was born with a heart defect that was compounded by an infection in 2006.
In September of that year, Katherine was put on a waiting list for a heart transplant and it took five months for a heart to become available.
“I believe she would be alive today if we hadn’t have had to wait so long,” said Harper.
A heart finally became available for Katherine in February 2007, but by then the health complications had made the transplant impossible.
“She didn’t have the fight,” said Harper.
The registration drive aims to prevent other families from going through such an agonizing loss.
“The idea is to close the gap on the waiting period,” said Harper.
“Children like Katherine, we wouldn’t have to lose them prematurely if that gap was smaller.”
The Apr. 26 event starts at 2 p.m. and will feature testimonials from guest speakers.
Harper will share her own story, while former Brockville Mayor Ben TeKamp and his daughter, Robin, will recount their own transplant story.
Robin TeKamp gave a kidney to her father almost exactly two years ago.
Ben Giroux, a 15-year-old heart recipient from Ottawa and his mother, Misty, whom Harper met during her daughter’s ordeal, will also share their story, while speakers from the Ontario East Transplant Support Group will discuss organ donation on behalf of the Trillium Gift of Life Network.
There will also be a bit of comic relief – although not for the faint of heart.
The agenda includes a brief video presentation entitled “How Not to Ask for Donations,” featuring the irreverent and more than a little bloody “Live Organ Transplants” sequence from Monty Python’s film The Meaning of Life.
Harper said the clip aims to capture a bit of her late daughter’s particular sense of humour.
“She loved gross stuff, she loved gory stuff and she had a great sense of humour,” she said.
“It’s such a heavy subject. I think a bit of humour is needed.”
On the more serious side, the event will include a “living green ribbon” ceremony in the schoolyard, in which participants will form the Trillium Gift of Life green ribbon symbol, with each person in the formation representing someone on the transplant waiting list.
Harper does not have a specific target figure for consent form signatures, but she hopes to have 250 of the forms on hand at the event and discuss ways those forms can be made more easily available to people.
And while this kind of community organizing is not Harper’s specialty, all that work has had a cathartic effect for the grieving mom.
“Even though Katherine is gone, I still feel I’m taking care of her,” she said.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves