A group led by MUHC health care professionals and friends is cycling from the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH) to London, Ontario, the site of the 2005 World Transplant Games. The goal of Ride for Life is to encourage people to sign their organ and tissue donor card and to discuss their wishes with their family.
The Ride For Life cyclists, who are members of the Beaconsfield Cycling Club, will pedal 900 kilometres and plan to arrive in London on July 17 (the day of the opening ceremonies of the World Transplant Games). They will make seven stops along the way to spread their message.
"We felt compelled to do something to raise awareness of the need for organ and tissue donation," says Karen Hornby, Research Coordinator in Pediatric Critical Care at the MCH and a Ride for Life organizer. "People must take the time to sign their donor cards and discuss their wishes with loved ones. Saving a life is that simple."
Canada's organ donation rate ranks in the bottom half of countries in the Western world where transplants are performed. More than 3,500 Canadians are waiting for an organ transplant (925 Quebecers), and every year nearly 150 of them die waiting.
"People need to let their families know they would like to donate their organs and tissue," says Lisa Goulet, MUHC Nurse Clinician for Organ and Tissue Donation. "Sharing your wishes with your loved ones in advance can make it easier for your family to decide about organ and tissue donation at the appropriate time. Heart, lung, liver, kidney or pancreas transplants can give patients another chance at life. The problem is there aren't nearly enough organs to meet current needs."
Last year, 424 transplants were performed in Quebec. Currently, there are approximately 925 patients waiting for an organ, two-thirds of whom are waiting for a kidney transplant.
"In 1997, I was diagnosed with end stage renal failure. I had to be on a dialysis machine while waiting for a kidney transplant," says Gordon Denison, a patient who received a kidney transplant at the Montreal Children's Hospital in 1998. "I was very lucky to receive a new kidney after waiting for one year," explains Denison. "Today, thanks to someone who signed their organ donor card and told their family about their intentions, I am now healthy and am in top shape. More so, I will be competing in the 15th World Transplant Games as an athlete of Team Canada. On behalf of all organ recipients and the hundreds of Canadians waiting for an organ, I want to thank the Ride for Life cyclists for taking the initiative and the time to raise awareness of the need to sign organ and tissue donation cards. Signing your organ and tissue donor cards and telling your family about this incredible gift saves lives — I'm living proof."
Canadians overwhelmingly support the idea of organ donation. In 1999, an Angus Reid survey of more than 1,500 Canadians found 81 per cent were willing to donate any organs or certain organs for transplant at the time of death. But only 65 per cent of Canadians have ever discussed the idea of organ donation with a family member. And in most parts of Canada families make the final decision on organ donation, even if their loved one left a signed consent.
While the number of organ transplants from living donors is increasing, organs for transplant usually come from patients in hospital who have been declared brain dead. These patients have unfortunately sustained catastrophic and irreversible damage to the brain such as stroke, severe head trauma or other oxygen-depriving injuries. A potential organ donor is maintained on a ventilator (artificial respiratory support) so that oxygen-rich blood still circulates through the body, keeping vital organs — heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, bowel and stomach — viable and suitable for transplantation.
The number of potential organ donors is very limited, since only 2 per cent of all deaths fulfill the criteria for organ donation (Angus Reid, 1998). Brain death is determined only after two doctors who are not involved in the transplantation process perform a series of rigorous tests.
The Ride for Life team would like to thank its sponsor, Trillium Gift of Life Network, as well as the Montreal Children's Hospital of the MUHC, the Quebec Branch of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Fondation Diane Hebert, Sureté du Québec, the Canadian Council for Donation and Transplantation, the Association Canadien des dons d'organes, Quebec Transplant and the Beaconsfield Cycling Club for their support.
NOTE: Cyclists will leave the Montreal Children's (2300 Tupper Street), turn right on Lambert Closse, right onto René Lévesque and then left on Atwater.
You can track the Ride for Life team's progress on the Internet or give them a call en route at 514-605-9423.