With this week being Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week in Saskatchewan, not many people know the importance of relying on the generosity and consideration of others as much as North Battleford's Cheryl Olson.
While generally healthy in the past, Olson's life changed drastically when a simple cold turned deadly in 1999, which resulted in her first of two heart transplants.
“It happened so fast. The cold became viral and attacked my heart,” Olson said. “I was on life support for four days before I received my first transplant.”
Nine years later she began experiencing issues with her donated heart, which led to her hospitalization and a second transplant surgery.
“I had what they call chronic rejection, which means my body wasn’t rejecting my heart, it was just that the tissue was thickening,” she added. “There was really nothing they could do so I was put back on the transplant list.”
Saskatchewan’s rate of organ and tissue donation from deceased donors was 14.6 donors per million in 2017, an increase from 12.2 per million in 2016. The national organ and tissue rate was 20.9 deceased donors per million in 2016. Olson said she realizes that she is fortunate someone took the time to consider being an organ donor, a decision which saved her life twice.
Today, Cheryl said she is living a happy and healthy lifestyle with very few complications from her transplants.
“Everything has been great since the second transplant and I haven’t had a lot of side effects,” Olson said. “I do have to be very careful with my lower immune system and getting sick, but otherwise life is good.”
The issue of organ donation gained national attention after the Humboldt Bus tragedy. Logan Boulet of Lethbridge registered as an organ donor just weeks before the 21-year-old became one of the victims in the deadly crash. As a result, his organs, including his heart and lungs, helped change six lives.
“Making sure you put the sticker on your health care is important. However, it is vitally important to have a conversation with your family about your wishes,” Olson said. “In the end, the doctors will approach your family about donation and if your family says ‘no,’ regardless if your sticker is on, the doctors will not harvest the organs.”
Olson recalled the story of her first donor, Adam from Alberta, who was 21 years old and saw her story on the news while watching television with his mom.
“He looked at his mom and said ‘don’t you wish there was something you could do to help them?” she recalled. “Two days later he was severely injured and became my donor. Each time I tell that story I still get chills.”
The Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority recently hired three physicians to provide leadership and education as part of a new model for Saskatchewan’s organ and tissue donation system. The move was welcomed not only by those who are currently waiting for a life-saving transplant but also those who were once on the waiting list.
On Twitter: @battlefordsNOW
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