These are the stories of lives transformed through the heart-warming generosity of organ and tissue donation.
“By saying ‘yes,’ many people were given a new life.”
Norma O’Shea was a fun, bright woman who had a lust for life. She was the kind of person who cared about others. During her lifetime, Norma took her commitment to the well-being of others one step further. She wanted to extend her giving nature even after her death by registering to be an organ and tissue donor.
To Norma, being an organ and tissue donor was a simple matter of fact. She signed the donor and tissue donation form when she received it. Then she spoke openly with her family about her desire to be a donor, so when the unexpected – the unimaginable – happened, her family knew precisely what to do.
Her husband Pat and daughter Katelyn are a testament to a remarkable woman’s capacity for caring. They fulfilled her wishes and, as a result, many people have received a legacy of life from Norma O’Shea.
Pat and Katelyn are proud of her decision and were equally proud of the part they played in seeing that her wishes were honoured.
“Even through our grief, we knew in that moment we could have a life-altering affect on others. We also knew it was what she wanted. By saying ‘yes,’ other people were given a new life. It’s an amazing gift!”
Pat and Katelyn O’Shea, West Bay, Nova Scotia
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Our story began in Sept. 2004 when we received a call that our youngest son Simon had collapsed with a ruptured brain aneurysm. This is a family’s worst nightmare and it was no different for us.
Simon was always a helper from the time he could walk. He dropped in daily to visit his grandparents to see what chores needed doing, fill the wood box, raid the cookie jar, etc. Simon loved to play guitar, fish, tie flies, cooking, and 18th century re-enactment and most of all seeing his cousins at big family parties. At 6 ft. 4 inches, he was known as the friendly giant. He had just started a community college course and lived in the city. After racing to Halifax we learned that our son would not survive. It was at this point we asked about organ and tissue donation.
All that kept going through our minds was “please do not let all these healthy organs and tissues go to waste, let some good come from this nightmare.” Thankfully Simon met the strict medical and legal criteria for organ and tissue donation. The Critical Care Donation Coordinator and physician explained the procedures and answered our questions. We were able to reach the decision to donate our son’s organ and tissues because we had taken the time to discuss donation. Both of my boys decided that they would want to be donors in the event that nothing more could be done for them. Simon had also signed his health card. Our large extended families were supportive of our decision.
"We have been amazed and comforted to learn that our son changed the lives of five organ recipients, a cornea recipient and a burn patient as well as over thirty other tissue recipient."
Some of these people may have been on a wait list for years but were able to live full and productive lives due to our son’s generous donation. I often think about the effect on so many lives! As a result of Simon’s gift, we continue to educate friends, neighbors, and family about the importance of taking the time to sit down with your loved ones, make decisions and sign their organ donor consent on their health card. We have been fortunate to know that even as we went through the loss of our son, he lives on in so many other people. That is truly a special legacy of his life.
Pat deMolitor, Donor Mom
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Do you have a son named Brad Howell?
It was the Halifax Regional Police. The officer said there had been an accident and I should come immediately to the hospital. I did not yet know that my son, my precious child, was already dead.
The police were waiting for me at the hospital and an officer took me inside. He started walking me to the “family room”. Oh NO, my heart cried – not the family room – this can’t be happening. I tried to damp down the panic, the fear that tugged at my heart. A nurse came in and asked if I had been told what happened…I told her I only knew there had been an accident.
She told me that Brad had been crushed between a forklift and a truck. She had no word on his condition but the doctor would be in to speak wit h me shortly. Crushed? Then I saw the priest. OH NO, I thought, please not the priest…Please God, Please… not my son…
Brad’s life could not be saved, but through the gift of donation maybe another life could be. I knew it was what he would have wanted.
Brad and I had discussed donation when his MSI card had arrived, and I asked him if he wanted to be a donor.
“Absolutely!” he had replied giving me that easy smile of his. “Mom” he said, gesturing to his body…”This is only a rental.”
And by giving that gift of donation we discovered we also gave a gift to ourselves. The gift of a living legacy to Brad’s life.
I believe that in the lives of those recipients, as they now live and love, that there is a legacy. And when they laugh, I believe there is an echo to Brad’s spirit, and he is smiling.
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Our sons were involved in a car accident. Our eldest, Jared, being critical with a major head injury, and Brandon dying instantly. I remember being told that one child had died and the other one was fighting for his life.
I remember trying to process and understand what the medical staff were trying to tell me. Then the thought came very clearly to me. Brandon had signed his health card as a donor. I remember talking with one of the emergency room doctors and stressing something had to be done immediately to make Brandon’s wish to be a donor successful. Two important tasks were now at hand, to save Jared’s life and to give back from Brandon’s life.
It was an overwhelming feeling of comfort and strength that I felt when the staff notified us that Brandon would be a candidate to be a donor. This thought is what sustained me through the ensuring months of my grief for Brandon. I know he would have smiled that irresistible smile knowing that he could help someone else continue their journey here on earth.
" It is my hope that we can spread the word through our experiences by educating others before tragedy hits, so that people can prepare to make an informed decision and be ready to act upon the need when it arises. That we can make it easier, more efficient and a safer process for all involved in the gift of life."
Today knowing that Brandon has helped others, keeps that eternal hug around my heart that gives me the strength to continue on with my life, void of his effervescent physical presence. For this I am truly thankful.
In April 2011, Linda Béland from Quebec found herself wanting to continue her involvement in organ and tissue donation during National Awareness Week. Therefore, despite being in another province learning English and teaching French at a local high school, she contacted the District Resource Nurse at Cape Breton District Health Authority and volunteered.
Linda spoke at several events including a local high school to over 100 grade 12 students and told the story of her son Vincent. Vincent was mountain climbing in Vancouver and fell, struck his head and ended up with an irreversible brain injury. Thanks to the great courage and kindness of his family, five of Vincent’s organs and tissues were donated. His heart, kidneys, pancreas and liver were used to help other families and give others the chance of the life that Vincent never got to fulfill.
It is due to this selflessness that five lives have been changed for the better.
Vincent’s family received a letter of gratitude for his heart and his liver. His mother, Linda, has told her three daughters to ensure their own donor cards are signed, as she would not be able to go through such a difficult decision again.
However, out of this tragic experience, Linda has been inspired to change her own life for the better. She has decided to learn English, despite being dyslexic like her son, it is a challenge that she is eager to face head on. Vincent believed that if you did not feel comfortable in your life, you should do whatever you can to change things. He embarked on a journey across Canada to find his way in life and now his mother is starting her own journey. Vincent’s spirit will help guide his mother on her journey.
Thanks to Linda’s courage in sharing the story, all of us are helped to find our way and appreciate what life has given us.
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Derrick Raymond Lewis, the eldest son of Bert and Maurina, was born Mother’s Day, May 14, 1978. At the age of 17, he was an elite athlete, an honours student and a young man in the prime of his life who always strove to be the best at whatever he was involved in. This all changed on Good Friday 1996.
In 1996, our family found ourselves in a situation that no family wants to be in. Derrick was involved in a falling accident that resulted in irreversible brain injury. Our family of five—Sean, Steven, Derrick, Maurina (mother) and Bert (father) — was reduced to four in the blink of an eye. So many questions went through our minds—Why us? Why now? How can this happen to our family? What do we do now?
We had been involved with organ donation and awareness in our community before Derrick’s accident. Family friends, The Young’s, and their daughter Carmen’s health challenges and advocacy introduced organ and tissue donation to us and many in our community. As a family we openly talked about organ and tissue donation and its importance to so many people and their families.
During the difficult conversations we had as a family and with the medical staff at the QEII following the accident, we knew that Derrick’s wish was to donate his organs and tissues. It was our role to have the courage to honour his wishes. As we sat together, we knew that this was the only decision we could make; Derrick would want others to have the chance to live their lives to the fullest the way he always lived his.
Through the donation of Derrick’s organs and tissues other families were able to continue with their lives.
The organ donation coordinators provided our family with updates and letters from some of the recipients of Derrick’s gift of life—people who may not be alive without it. This gave us a sense of comfort in such a difficult and trying time.
Derrick has been honoured in many ways through our community, including high school scholarships, junior high recognitions, hockey awards and tournaments named in his honour. Derrick’s spirit lives on in our family, our friends and community, but also in so many people that he knew and those that he never knew.
It is important that families talk openly about and be aware of the need for organ and tissue donation. We believe that our exposure to and discussion about this important gift of life, made the decision to donate Derrick’s organs and tissues much easier.
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At the end of a perfect ski vacation on the last run of the day my 41-year old husband, David, had an accident on the hill. Our story was far from typical as it was filled with things that no family should have to survive. Like many families I cling to the memory that I was by his side telling him he was going to be ok, and I would help make things better. That wasn’t the case and hours later I found out from a stranger that he had died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital.
Even though I have worked as a nurse with the provincial organ and tissue donor program, teaching and providing education across Nova Scotia, and as a kidney donor myself, I never thought I would be faced with making a decision for my own family.
On January 12, 2012, my entire life changed, and I asked for something that most families don’t even think of in my circumstance.
We were hundreds of miles from home yet my first call was to a tissue specialist at the QEII. Because of this profound tragedy, my boys, 11 and 14, lost their father, their coach, and their mentor. I knew what I needed to do to give them hope and healing.
I knew the benefits of tissue donation. I knew it might not make a difference that night but in whatever capacity their father’s tissues could be used, he would continue to be a hero to my boys in death as he had been in life.
I felt I needed to make that happen. The tissue specialist and the New England organ bank team worked hard to make our family’s end of life wishes come true. David became a donor, and a hero to my boys.
My husband was a kind, gentle giant who loved sports, golf, the woods, and nothing more than his family. He died as he lived, helping others. We celebrate his memory with Donate Life wrist bands provided by New England organ bank and are happy to be champions for organ and tissue donation to honour such a beautiful life.
Dana, Keighan, Rhylan Morse in memory of David Lawrence Morse
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Adam was a talented athlete and artist whose enthusiasm and love of life inspired me. He graduated from Cape Breton University with an automotive and collision repair certificate and loved to fix up old cars. As a goaltender for his hockey team he excelled and was well respected by his coaches and teammates. He had a real passion for art and in his many drawings that shone through.
With a new job, a girlfriend and plans for the future he had so much left to do in life. Tragically, all that came to abrupt end when he died in an accident on May 27th, 2007. He was 21 years old.
When Adam’s health card was due for renewal two months prior, I reminded him that it was his own choice to remain as an organ and tissue donor. His response was, “What am I going to need them for when I’m dead? Someone else may as well benefit from it, Mom.”
As the doctor came out of the trauma room, held my hand and gently told me that Adam was gone despite their valiant efforts to save him, my thoughts turned to that conversation. As a family grieving the loss of our only son, we wanted to honor his wishes to be a donor.
Through correspondence with the Tissue Bank, we learned that the life of a burn patient was saved and more than 50 individuals received tissue from Adam’s selfless donation.
The pride we feel knowing that something good came from something so tragic gives us the strength to go on. Adam would be happy that others have benefited from his legacy and because of the effect his decision has had on our family, we encourage others to do the same.
There are people in the world with a better quality of life because of our son’s gift as a donor and it has helped lessen our grief. It gives us comfort to think that even when we die, a part of us can live on in others through organ and tissue donation – the ultimate gift – the gift of life.