The Saskatchewan government is kick-starting an organ donor awareness campaign in the province and three specialized doctors will be tasked with helping out.
Health Minister Jim Reiter announced Monday morning the province had signed a contract with three intensive care physicians who will work to educate people about organ donations.
The doctors will share the contract, which is specified as a part-time position.
“Saskatchewan has had nothing in the past as far as donor physicians, so I think this is a huge step forward,” Reiter said.
“You’re going to see this sort of leadership model continue to expand down the road.”
Dr. Joann Kawchuk, an intensive care doctor who spends time at both St. Paul’s Hospital and Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, will lead the donor physician team.
She said their initial task will be to assess where they can improve information for healthcare professionals and the general public in terms of organ donation.
“It will probably give us an idea of what we need in the longer term,” she said.
Kawchuk noted the assessment could lead to more expanded positions for a donor physician team in the future.
The province has budgeted a total of $566,000 this year towards organ donation rate improvement, part of which will also go towards hiring nurses for the organ donor program.
The hope is to raise Saskatchewan’s donor rate to the national average of 20.9 donors per one million in population. The province currently sits last in donor rankings at 14.9 per one million.
Advertising campaign features heart transplant recipient
Monday’s announcement also included the launch of a video advertising campaign to encourage people to sign their donor cards.
The videos feature Saskatchewan residents who have benefitted from organ donation.
“It’s so important for people (to sign their cards) because nobody knows if it’s themselves or somebody they love that’s going to need this,” said Terry Schrader, who received a heart transplant in 2013.
Schrader discovered in 2001 he had an enlarged heart, but was told he wasn’t sick enough to warrant a transplant. Ten years later, he fell ill and tests were done in Edmonton before he was placed on the transplant waiting list in 2012.
On Feb. 1, 2013, he received the call.
“It was a relief,” he said. “After all those years not knowing it was going to happen, it was happening.”
Schrader was flown to Edmonton and put on the operating table. The heart took, and he was released on Valentine’s Day.
Months later he received a letter from his donor’s family, easing some of his guilt that someone had to die so he could live.
“I live every day to the fullest and I think of my donor every day,” Schrader said. “I can’t thank them enough, they’ve given me so much.”
Since the transplant, he’s been able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, has seen his grandchildren grow and renewed his vows with his wife Selena.
“I married her with my old heart, so I had to marry her with my new one,” he said.