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Jan. 20, 2021 | Wednesday
Local News
Opinion: NOTL liver recipient urges everyone to 'be a donor'
From left, Dave and Bob Rogerson, Flying Farmer Fred Bruinsma, Sandi  Johnston, Audrey Baskin, Carol Morningstar and Michelle McKinnon. (J. Richard Wright/Submitted)


When my wife, Sandi Johnston, was told by doctors that she had an autoimmune idiopathic liver disease and without a transplant her death was imminent, she confesses feeling disbelief.

But as a veteran charge nurse in Canada’s busiest emergency room at Toronto East General Hospital, she knew full well that bad things happen to good people. 

“That was more than 20 years ago,” she says, “and because someone chose to register as an organ donor, my life was saved.”

In fact, Sandi was a “split liver” transplant; she received the right lobe and a child at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children received the left lobe from the same donor.

“When you get the call saying they have a liver for you, it’s a bitter-sweet moment,” she adds. “You have a chance to live but you know some other family has just lost their loved one.” 

Like many other transplant recipients, she volunteers to help promote Trillium’s Gift of Life program. So, when invited to speak at a recent donor awareness event for the Life Donation Awareness Association of Niagara (LDAA), and sponsored by the Ontario Flying Farmers organization, she happily agreed.

More than 35 people attended the gathering at the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport in Welland, with many flying in from around the province on their private aircraft. The event was both informative and extremely touching as people told how their lives, or lives of loved ones, had been saved by the generosity and caring of others. 

After a lunch put on by local volunteers, Bob Rogerson, a double-lung recipient, related how he and his twin brother Dave both suffered from cystic fibrosis. As the disease progressed in severity, a lung transplant was needed to save Bob’s life. Dave’s disease followed a similar path and he received a double-lung transplant as well. 

The next speaker was Sandi ,who shared her experience of a 14-hour operation and some setbacks until she emerged healthy again.

“We are the lucky ones up here,” she reminded attendees. “There are currently 4,500 Canadians needing a life-saving transplant with someone dying every 30 hours. The good news is that in Ontario alone, 388 lives were saved in the last year because of donors.”

Audrey Baskin, also a liver transplant recipient, spoke of the incredible kindness of her best friend who, in 2014, donated 68 per cent of her liver in a “live” liver transplant. Over time, her friend’s liver would regrow to all but one per cent of its original size.

Michelle McKinnon told how she was prepped to donate a kidney to her 17-year-old son David when he unexpectedly died. With her pre-op testing done, McKinnon chose to honour David’s memory by donating one of her kidneys to a three-year old stranger so the boy’s parents would be spared the heartbreak she experienced. 

Finally, Carol Morningstar told how her daughter Andrea, although suffering from an idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy condition, was determined to live a “normal” life with an artificial heart prior to her successful transplant in 2010.

Morningstar and a friend chose to spread the word on the critical need for donors by forming the Life Donation Awareness Association and sharing information around Niagara. They do an average of eight to 10 information events each year.

“Organ donor cards are no longer valid so people need to register at,” says Sandi. “Also, talk to your family about your decision. A single donor can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of up to 75 other people.”

* J. Richard Wright and Sandi Johnston live in Niagara-on-the-Lake.