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Organ donation isn’t about talk, it’s about action

Ali Schwabe | Fulcrum Staff

Organ donation has been in the spotlight these days more than ever before, but statistics still show that while 90 per cent of Canadians support organ/tissue donation, less than 25 per cent have made plans to donate.

Bobbie-Lynn Burton, a University of Ottawa alumna, has been working to increase the number of Canadians who are registered as organ/tissue donors ever since her mom, who suffered from Type 1 diabetes, passed away last fall at the age of 57 while waiting for a pancreas and kidney.

Burton developed an even more personal reason for Canadians to sign up in 2006 when her own kidneys failed. She’s been waiting for a transplant ever since.

“I’ve had issues with my kidneys since I was born, but I was stable at that point when I was in university,” she explained. “A year after graduating, I ended up getting a kidney infection that shut down the rest of my kidneys.

“When I first started dialysis, I always had it in my head that it was a temporary thing,” said Burton, whose father was prepared to be a donor but didn’t qualify. “I finally had to realize that dialysis wasn’t temporary and I had to adjust my life somehow.”

Burton was recently put on a new dialysis schedule, visiting the hospital overnight three times a week to be hooked up to a machine that filters her blood.

Dialysis aside, Burton leads what she calls a surprisingly normal life.

“I love biking. I love running—I have a race lined up for next month and I’ve signed up for the army run,” she said. “I love going to musicals, reading, [and] travelling as much as I can.”

Despite her efforts to lead a normal life, there have been times where Burton’s body has been outside of her control. She had a permanent access—a site with permanent connection between an artery and a vein—but it failed in November. The experience scared her.

“[The access] failed; it destroyed all the blood vessels, it clotted up, and it was actually an aneurism and they had to quickly remove it because it destroys vital blood vessels in my arm,” she explained.

Because the qualified surgeon was in surgery when they discovered the problem, Burton and her boyfriend were sent home until the morning.

“It was scary when they told us—I’ll never forget my boyfriend’s face when they told him what to do in case it burst … they gave him a tourniquet,” she recounted.

Despite setbacks, Burton has managed to stay positive the last six years while waiting for a kidney.

“It sucks,” she admitted. “I try not to think about it too much. Everyone keeps telling me, ‘You’re so positive even though this is happening.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, what else am I going to do?’ You’re miserable, or you’re not. I could sit here and mope ad complain and cry, but why?”

Lately, Burton’s been keeping herself busy by campaigning to raise awareness about becoming an organ/tissue donor. She recently helped organize an event at Carlingwood Mall where over 250 people registered to become donors. Still, she says the numbers right now are far too low, especially for the 15,000 Ontarians waiting for a transplant.

“In Ottawa, only 24 per cent of people are actually registered as organ donors. It’s low. It needs to be more people,” she said.
She spoke about misconceptions she’s encountered about organ donation.

“You have to register online,” explained Burton. “A lot of people think if you have that signed paper you’re a donor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re registered. You have to go online and register with your health card. A quick way to tell is that on the back of your health card, if you have the green one, it says the word ‘donor.’”

She encourages students to go to to sign up. The website also has a thorough FAQ section for individuals wanting to understand more about the process of donation.

One of the most common questions Burton gets is whether people with various medical conditions can become donors. She says yes, and points to her mom as a perfect example.

After her mother passed away due to heart failure and complications from her disease, Burton’s dad got a phone call asking if they could harvest his wife’s organs.

“My dad said, ‘Well her heart’s gone, her lungs are gone, her kidneys are gone, her pancreas is gone, what’s viable?’ And they said, ‘What about the eyes?’”

Burton explained that although her mom was partially blind, her corneas were still intact.

“We recently got a letter saying they got transplanted to two people,” said Burton.

She thinks it’s amazing that something good was able to come of her mom’s death, and encourages others to have that same impact.

“You can be a hero. You can help somebody.”