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17. #50YearsofTransplant: Ciaran Martin

Chelsea Sonoda, a donor family member shares the story of her brother, Ciaran, who donated his organs when he passed away at the young age of 16 due to a car accident. Today, the entire family advocates for organ donation.
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Ciaran with his mother and siblings (Ciaran- far right)

Can you tell us about your brother, Ciaran?

"I am so lucky that I am extremely close to my mother and my brothers. In December, a conversation occurred between us about organ donation. It was brief, there wasn't a lot of information shared but when asked his opinion, my 16 year old brother Ciaran immediately and without hesitation declared he wanted to be an organ donor should anything happen to him. He was clear, he was sure, he was passionate.

In 2014, we had a fabulous Christmas and Boxing Day. It was also the last day I saw and hugged my baby brother.

On January 2nd, 2014, I received a call that he had been in an accident and that I should get to the hospital in Courtenay as soon as possible. Upon arriving, victim services, the RCMP, and the doctor met us in a private room. She said it did not look good and there was no brain function but my brother was only 16 and he deserved a chance, so he was ultimately airlifted to Victoria.

Upon arrival to Victoria Hospital later that night, we were extremely hopeful. We were adamant in our positivity, never questioning that he would be fine. Things changed quickly the next day. It became clear that he was only alive because of the machines. That he had ultimately suffered a brain death. That our sweet brother, son and friend, wasn't going to open his eyes.

Organ donation was very delicately brought up and after discussing the conversation we had with Ciaran only weeks before, we ultimately agreed to fulfill his final wish. It was a strange, bittersweet feeling, watching him turn from my brother that we were fighting for, into a lifesaving vessel for others.

The doctors, nurses and coordinators were angels. They were kind, they were thoughtful and they were tireless. They fought for my brother in trying to save him, and then they fought for him to help him carry out what he wanted. They were so good to us, they were so good to him, and I am still brought to tears when I think of all of them and wonder if they know how grateful I am.

My brother's organs saved four people and helped two others to see. He is my hero. Every person who works in this beautiful organization is my hero. I am overwhelmed with love and appreciation for every one of them. Thank you."

Being a donor family member; what would you say to those that haven't yet considered the importance of speaking about organ donation amongst family and friends and registering one's decision to give?

"I would like to say please don't wait until it affects you. From everyone I have talked to, it is obvious that people generally are not against organ donation, they just don't register. If you think about it, at a time of grief under the tragic circumstances it would be very difficult to make a decision like this without knowing what your loved one would have preferred. I would also mention that it is important to remember that people are more likely to need an organ than to give one so consider it and talk to your family about the decision. It is especially important to talk to your family about it as they make the final decision at that time so if your choice is known beforehand, they will be more likely to follow through with it.

Frankly, it was not easy to watch my baby brother turn from the kind, happy and loving person who we were trying to save, to a vessel with lifesaving organs but it really helped to know that this decision would have made him happy. It was great that just two weeks prior we had the discussion with him and his wishes were known. That is why I can say this again and again, register for organ donation and please talk to your family about it."

Organ donation is a vital part of BC's milestone of 50 Years of Transplant. It all starts with a family saying yes. What can you share as a donor family member and making that decision in such a tough time?

"Honestly there are no words. Initially my mother was devastated when some of Ciaran's organ recipients didn't live as long as we were hoping but then when we thought about it, time is priceless. We would have done anything to have a week or even an hour more with Ciaran. It is so selfless of organ donor families to give the organs of their loved ones while going through such a difficult time themselves. On the other hand, it is great for recipients, they were dying or struggling and they basically get an extension. But I can imagine it's also not completely easy as it gives them more time but it doesn't solve everything. Above all, I firmly believe time is precious so I am glad recipients get those extra moments with loved ones."

What's your perspective on the milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant in BC?

 "I am so happy to see the advancements and progression we have made in the last 50 years. So many people have been helped, given some extra time to live and love. I also can't wait to see the growth and change in the next 50 years. I am also hoping that by then we have an opt-out system in Canada similar to other places instead of registering to be an organ donor."

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