February 6, 2012

TORONTO - Sarah Burke is dead. Others live because of her.

The 29-year-old freestyle skiing pioneer's organs and tissue were donated for transplants. As operating rooms in Park City, Utah, worked on salvaging the Canadian ski hero's organs, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, Trillium Gift of Life Network and the University of St. Michael's College chaplaincy department gathered Catholics on the University of Toronto campus to discuss ways of persuading more Catholics to donate their organs and tissue.

"The stories really are what motivates people," said CCBI executive director Moira McQueen as she opened up the Jan. 19 forum.

The idea still circulating among some Catholics that organ and tissue donation are in some way controversial or problematic for Catholics simply doesn't stand up, McQueen said


She referred her audience to the Archdiocese of Toronto's efforts to promote organ donation in its pamphlet Organ Donation: A Catholic Perspective and to statements by Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II in favour of organ donation.

Every three days somebody in Ontario dies waiting for an organ transplant, Trillium Gift of Life Network CEO Ronnie Gavsie told the gathering of 40 people.

Sabrina Coccagna's father endured more than six months on the waiting list with his heart functioning at 20 per cent of normal operation. Six years later, Coccagna has been able to watch her father experience the growth of his grandchildren.

"Every day is a miracle," said Coccagna.

Deacon Michael Hayes of St. Patrick's Parish in Markham has been a living donor twice - the only living Canadian to donate two organs, his liver and part of a kidney. Though he endured three months of discomfort after his 2010 donation of a kidney, he's now training for the 2013 Boston Marathon. "I asked myself, (what) if it were Jesus of Nazareth who needed it?" he explained.

Hayes claimed a great sense of peace following both his 2008 and 2010 donations. It's a peace that comes with realizing that, not only did somebody receive a life-saving organ, but others moved up on the waiting list.

"It's a ripple effect," he said. "It's grace upon grace."

While many people believe they are potential donors because they signed the card that comes with their driver's licence renewal, it really doesn't serve the purpose, said Gavsie.

Upon death few people are likely to go rifling through your wallet looking for permission to harvest organs and tissue, she said. The biggest thing parishes can do would be to publicize the Trillium secure website, www.beadonor.ca. Registration takes about 10 minutes.