By JENNIFER HAMILTON-MCCHARLES, THE North Bay NUGGET
Organ donation provides people with a chance to be a hero, even after they're gone said Sarah Johnson, a 21-year-old Golden Valley resident who underwent a heart transplant three years ago and is now completing her high school diploma.
Johnson is one of many people in the area to benefit from organ donation.
She hopes more people get a second chance at life.
North Bay tops Ontario cities in the number of people who have completed their organ-donation registration, according to news reports.
More than 34% of North Bay residents have registered their consent for organ and tissue donation, compared to only 4% in Toronto.
According to healthzone.ca a neighbourhood in the north part of North Bay has the highest rate in Ontario at 43%.
North Bay and District Hospital vice-president Tiz Silveri was surprised to see North Bay top the polls.
I'm not quite sure why," she said Monday.
The only things that I can think that would contribute to this is that we're a smaller community, we have more elderly residents and we don't have huge cultural differences."
Versha Prakash, vice-president of operations for the Trillium Gift of Life Network, said in the average Ontario city, 17% have signed donor registration cards.
She said donor registration is increasing, but numbers are far from where they need to be.
Last year we had 85 people die on our waiting list. We have to do better and commit to preventing needless deaths."
Prakash said the Trillium Gift of Life Network wants to drive donor registrations to rates like North Bay.
The majority of Ontarians support organ donation, but when it comes to giving consent it's 17%."
Prakash said the challenge for the organization is to find out how to create a sense of urgency.
She said information pamphlets will soon be included with health card renewal notices.
Johnson is also doing her part to spread the message.
She tells her story of hope to those who want to listen.
Johnson said life before the transplant was tough. Besides countless medical appointments and changes to her medication, she couldn't do simple day-today things.
Before I had the heart transplant I couldn't even wash my hair, because I couldn't lift my arms above my head," she said Monday.
Johnson was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at the age of two.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. It damages the muscle tone of the heart and reduces its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Blair Johnson, Sarah's father, said doctors told them by the time his daughter was five she would need a heart transplant and by the age of 12 she probably wouldn't be alive.
He said Sarah spent years trying different drugs hoping they would do the trick."
It was tough on all of us," Blair said.
Our family was fragmented. Sarah and her mother were in Toronto and I was back home looking after two children. I'm not saying our troubles were worse than others, but it was tough," he said.
At the age of 18, Sarah's need for a heart was critical.
She stayed in an intensive care unit at a Toronto hospital waiting for some good news.
The family was told their daughter may have to be put on an artificial pump to keep her alive until a heart became available.
But that didn't happen. When we heard that a heart was available I said 'thank you Lord' and then all I could do was to think about the family who said yes for this donation to happen," said Lynn Johnson, Sarah's mother.
Organ and tissue donation is the biggest gift of compassion anyone can give," she said.
This has opened my eyes so much. Even bone can be used to help someone whose leg has been crushed and avoid amputation."
Blair said he doesn't know where his daughter's new heart came from or the circumstances surrounding the gift.
According to the Trillium Gift of Life Network website, there are 1,621 people in Ontario waiting for an organ donation. Of those people, 1,175 are waiting for a kidney transplant.
The website also states that one donation can save up to eight lives and enhance as many as 75 more. Some of the donations include heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, lungs, small bowel, stomach, corneas, heart valves, bone and skin.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Register to be an organ and tissue donor & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network. NEW for Ontario: recycleMe.org - Learn The Ins & Outs Of Organ And Tissue Donation. Register Today! For other Canadian provinces click here
In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at ShareYourLife.org or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov
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 (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant.