April 24 to 30 is organ donor and tissue awareness week across B.C. - Image Credit: Contributed

B.C. breaks record for number of transplant donations

More than 450 lives were saved by organ transplants in 2017, according to the Ministry of Health

  • Jan. 26, 2018 12:00 a.m.

For the first time in his medical career, Dr. David Landsberg feels like B.C. is leading the way for deceased organ transplant – and rightfully so.

A record-breaking 479 lives were saved by organ transplants in B.C. last year, according to new data from the Ministry of Health, a 25 per cent increase from 2016.

Landsberg, BC Transplant’s provincial medical doctor, said in a statement Friday this translates to more lives being saved than ever before.

The province suggests the growth is from a mix of system upgrades and healthcare teams’ increasing efforts to identify potential donors and support families in choosing organ donation.

But there’s also been a cultural shift, Landsberg said, that’s normalized deceased organ donations.

“This is a result of system changes we’ve made over the past few years that are now having an impact, but also a shift in our culture to one that fully supports organ donation as a normal end-of-life option,” he said in a news release.

In times of tragedy, it has become more common for some families and loved ones to find closure in seeing a life forever-changed through the donation of a kidney or lung or heart.

And while B.C. has been ground-zero of the opioid epidemic in Canada, opioid-related deaths have also been linked to increasing organ transplants. Although B.C. Transplant can’t confirm the cause of death that results in organ donations, bout 19 per cent of all donations came from a fentanyl drug user.

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More than 630 B.C. residents awaited transplants last year. And while some were lucky enough to receive a transplant, 29 died while waiting for a life-saving organ.

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Alison Snowden was one of the 52 British Columbians to receive the gift of life last year, in the form of new lungs.

“You never think something like this is going to happen to you until it does,” she said. “A transplant saved my life.”

Lung and kidney transplants were the two kinds of organ donations that saw the biggest rate increase in 2017, totalling more than 30 per cent of the total transplants. Meanwhile, 97 living kidney transplants were performed.

Dr. John Yee, Medical Director of the BC Lung Transplant Program, said he remembers a time when there was just one lung transplant within a year.

Since then, he’s watched the rates of lung transplants increase “dramatically” in recent years.

“There are many factors that have affected this increase; there is a greater availability of organs, there’s more awareness that lung transplants are a viable option for people with end-stage lung failure, and we’ve built a well-trained and experienced multi-disciplinary team that can manage the demand while achieving excellent health results for our patients,” Yee said.

The increase in donations has been met with an increased number of patients waiting for organs, data shows.

As of Jan. 1, 638 people were still waiting for an organ transplant. Residents can register their own decision about organ donation at transplant.bc.ca.

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