In Ontario, one person dies every three days waiting for an organ transplant. A campaign at U of T is trying to play a role in changing that.
The U of T Gift of Life campaign, which has been running across all three U of T campuses for the last two weeks, has surpassed its goal of 4,000 registrants and become the largest donor registration drive in the province of Ontario.
Organized in a partnership between the Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN), U of T, and the U of T Medical Society, the U of T Gift of Life campaign ran from January 13 to January 24. The campaign set out to educate people about the urgent need for organ donations and encourage them to register as donors. As of press time, 4,372 have registered.
The idea for the campaign started last spring, with a letter from the TGLN to former U of T president David Naylor. According to Ronnie Gavsie, President and CEO of TGLN: “The goal is to educate people on the value of registering consent to be a donor, and to motivate them to take action,” adding that there are 1,500 people in Ontario on a waitlist to be recipients of organ donations.
The GTA is experiencing a particularly acute shortage of registered donors. Province-wide, the registration rate as of May 2, 2013, is 23 per cent of those eligible to donate; in the GTA, it is only 14 per cent.
“Larger, more cosmopolitan cities tend to have a smaller rate than smaller communities,” said Gavsie, adding that Northern Ontario has a registration rate of around 50 per cent on average.
The change in donor registration policies adds to the importance of the drive; in 2011, the province moved from the donor card system to a provincial database. Anyone who had signed a donor card is no longer registered under the new system. Anyone can check their status on BeADonor.ca.
“We’ve tried to hit people from as many different angles as possible,” said Kim Blakely, president of the U of T Medical Society and a key organizer in the campaign. On January 17, the office of the vice-provost, students sent an email to all students encouraging them to support the campaign and register. The campaign also reached out through social media, and put four booths up around the university’s three campuses to draw attention to the drive.
“There are so many misconceptions about organ donation,” said Blakely, explaining that, in her experience throughout the campaign, she saw that many people did not realize how critical the need is. “I wasn’t even fully aware before the campaign was presented to us,” she went on.
Nour Hassoun, a third-year biology specialist, said she also didn’t know anything about organ donation before the campaign started. “We could be saving lives if people knew about it,” she stated, noting the importance of spreading information.
In 2012 there were 1,053 lifesaving organ transplants from 253 donors, a record number for Ontario. The program has helped save the lives of 9,809 people since 2003.
“For some people, this is the first time it has been brought to their minds,” said Gavsie.