Ontario sets record high for organ donations

A record number of people in Ontario received a life-saving organ donation last year, according to new data.

Figures released this week by the Trillium Gift of Life Network, which is responsible for organ and tissue donations in the province, show there were 1,386 organ transplants in 2019, a 13 per cent increase over the year before.

The higher numbers are partly attributed to technological advances, allowing organs to be used from people with conditions like Hepatitis C that would have made them ineligible previously, said Ronnie Gavsie, the network's CEO and president.

"Now with certain drugs, we can block transmission of viruses that before could have been passed through to recipients," she said.

"We've moved very quickly on using those techniques and those drugs to increase the number of opportunities to save lives."

Last year, there were 382 deceased organ donors and 302 living organ donors, representing a 15 and 10 per cent increase, respectively, over 2018.

There was also a 21 per cent increase in kidney and pancreas donations, and a 37 per cent increase in multi-tissue donors.

Eligible donor pool low

Despite the increase, the total number of both living and dead donors remains low across Ontario, something Gavsie attributes to both low registration figures and the strict criteria for organ donation.

Only 34 per cent of Ontarians have registered to be an organ donor. Ottawa is above the provincial average, however, at 42 per cent.

For a dead donor to be suitable, they must die while on a ventilator in a critical care unit — because there must be oxygen and blood flow to the organs — and that equates to only one to two per cent of all hospital deaths.

That number is further dwindled because of other criteria, Gavsie said.

"So the pool of potential donors is very low and that is exactly why whenever there is a potential donor. It is so important that we receive family consent," said Gavsie.

Some organ donors have been over the age of 90, while all major religions allow organ donations, she said.

But the number one reason people don't register? Procrastination, said Gavsie.

"It is so important to register right away and to tell your family — and then go on and live life," she said.

Deaths on the waiting list

Today, there are 123 people in Ottawa waiting for a life-saving medically urgent transplant.

The provincial waiting list hovers around 1,600 but doesn't change dramatically, Gavsie said, since as people are taken off the list — either because they've died or received a transplant — there are always other less urgent cases that get upgraded and added.

"One person on the waiting list dies just waiting," Gavsie said. "And they die because they do not have an organ on time."