Friday, March 28, 2008

The organ donation program finds resonance in Rupert

Wednesday's Daily News featured details of a former resident Brian Parsons recent heart transplant surgery, a much needed procedure that should, if all goes well, return him to full health for the first time in over two years.

It's a fascinating story of the success of the BC organ transplant program, how in addition to a new heart for Parsons, six other BC residents received vital organs thanks to a program that too few British Columbian's know about.

Since news of Parsons successful surgery has spread, old friends from Rupert have been in touch with him and wife Rhona to offer them their best wishes. The couple who live in Vernon now, will be in Vancouver for the next few months while Parsons builds up his strength and learns to adapt to his new heart.

It's a story that brings home the importance of the organ donation program and may help some to make the decision to register to become a donor, a simple process, which you can find out more about from the BC Organ transplant site.

There are currently 656,352 people registered with the society, out of a population of 4.1 million residents. The current wait list for transplants is listed at 300, while there have been 78 transplants conducted in BC so far in 2008.

The Parsons story is just one of the success stories aided by British Columbians who took the time to register.

Ex-Rupert man grateful for his heart op miracle
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Page three

Exactly one month after undergoing heart transplant surgery, Brian Parsons has already been getting back into an exercise regimen and feeling more like his old self.

The former Prince Rupert resident who was born and raised in the city was one of seven people in British Columbia who received organs last month from a donor in the Interior of the province. However, it was a transplant that nearly didn't happen.

Usually, the difficulty with transplants lies in finding a donor to supply the much-needed organs, but in Parsons' case it was a matter of getting the transplant team to the donor organs in time.
Because the donor was outside the Lower Mainland, BC Transplant needed to charter a jet to get the team of doctors and nurses to the site, but there were no aircraft available due to the demand for personal aircraft by those attending the Academy Awards that weekend in California.

It was through an old football friendship forged at Queen's University between BC Transplant Executive Director Bill Barrable and Bob McFarlane, chief financial officer at Telus, that a call was made and the Telus corporate jet was utilized for the transplant team.

"When they called me they told me they were having problems with transportation," said Parsons. "It ended up being fortunate that the Telus plane was flying from Back East into Vancouver, so they were able to get the organs from the Interior. That's why the news story broke, because of the Oscars and Telus stepping up to loan their jet, otherwise they would have lost the seven organs."

Parsons first noticed his health was declining in the summer of 2006, and after several trips from his home in Vernon to Vancouver for medical treatment, he wasn't shocked to find out he was being placed on the transplant list for a new heart.

"The doctors told me if I was back for another appointment in Vancouver before I got my transplant, I would probably be getting a ventricular assistance device, which actually hooks up to your heart and helps it pump," said Parsons. "That would have happened a few days after I ended up getting the transplant, so I was very fortunate that I got the call telling me I had a donor heart. My heart was failing and if I hadn't got it, it would have meant another operation and I would have been bumped down the transplant list."

A full-time firefighter in Vernon and someone who's always exercised to stay in top physical condition, Parsons was eager to get the chance to become active once again and possibly return to firefighting one day. It therefore came as a great relief when instead of having a machine placed inside his chest that he was able to get the new heart he needed.

"It gets to the point when your heart's not functioning well and you can't do everything you used to be able to do at the same level, you realize the best thing for you is a new heart so you can function normally again, rather than be in such a diminished state," he said. "If that's what it takes to get back to normal, I was ready to do it by all means. The first question I had for the doctor was how long it will be before I can go back to full [firefighting] duties, and he said six months if everything goes well "

Seven transplants were conducted over the course of that night in February, including two kidneys, two lungs, a liver, a pancreas, and Parsons' new heart, all from one donor and giving seven different patients new starts in life. Parsons and his wife Rhona will be staying in the Lower Mainland for the next couple months for ongoing assessments, before they'll be able to return home to Vernon. He says the support they've received in the past month and since he became ill nearly two years ago has been overwhelming, and they can't thank their family and friends enough for everything.

"A lot of family and friends in Prince Rupert have been in touch with us," said Parsons. "My wife and I would like to thank everybody for their support. It's still a long journey to get through all this, and I'm still in the initial stages, but I don't foresee any problems in the long-term."
To register to be an organ donor, people can visit the transplant society website at

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