Margaret Benson had been living life to the fullest, thanks to an organ donor who enabled her to receive a double-lung transplant 20 years ago. But in 2019, Margaret's kidneys were failing and it was clear that she would need a kidney transplant.
Thankfully, Margaret's older brother Jim Phillipson stepped forward as her living donor, and Margaret became one of 480 British Columbians to receive a transplant in 2019.
2019 capped off a transformational decade for organ donation and transplant in British Columbia. 480 British Columbians received an organ transplant in 2019, which is more than double the 212 transplants that took place in 2009.
Living kidney transplants surged in 2019 – a 20 per cent increase over 2018. 120 people made the selfless act of donating one of their kidneys to someone in need. 32 per cent of these were pre-emptive transplants, which take place before a person has to go on dialysis.
In 2019, BC also hit the milestone of more than 5,000 people alive due to a transplant. Since the start of each program 30 years ago, the VGH lung program performed its 500th lung transplant, and BC Children's Hospital performed its 300th pediatric kidney transplant.
There were 331 total kidney transplants in 2019, 68 liver transplants, and 46 lung transplants. View BC Transplant's 2019 fact sheet.
Margaret received a living kidney transplant just months before celebrating her 20-year double-lung transplant anniversary. "2019 was incredibly meaningful," says Margaret. "I was already so thankful to all the people who kept me alive and thriving for the last 20 years with my first transplant, and then I received another life-saving transplant from my amazing big brother."
Margaret's 73-year-old brother Jim plays down his ultimate gift, "I thought it wasn't fair that my youngest sibling had been dealt yet another awful health challenge. For me, the solution was a no-brainer. I would do it again in a heartbeat."
As a cystic fibrosis patient, Margaret remembers when she was once told that she would not make it past the age of 15. She was later told she would only live five bonus years post-transplant. Nobody could predict that she would turn every health scare she encountered into an opportunity to show the world what she was made of.
Margaret spent many years as a beloved teacher on the North Shore and a fun-loving zumba instructor, and she has competed in 14 Canadian and World Transplant Games, bringing home an incredible 58 medals. Margaret honours her donors by staying healthy and athletic.
View Margaret's full story
Every transplant is made possible by an organ donor and, over the last ten years, more families are saying yes to organ donation. In 2019, there were 117 deceased donors in BC, more than triple the number of deceased donors at the beginning of the decade.
"The transplant journey starts with one family generously saying yes to organ donation," says Dr. Sean Keenan, BC Transplant's medical director of Organ Donation Services. "Then so many people are involved in quickly turning that incredible act of donation into a successful life-saving transplant."
Referrals of potential donors from hospitals across the province were up in 2019. BC Transplant's 24/7 clinical referral line received 548 hospital referrals, up seven per cent from 2018. This can be attributed to a shift in culture to one where organ donation is seen as a normal component of quality end-of-life care, continued work on developing partnerships with the critical care community, and a dedicated focus on increasing organ donation in hospitals and maximizing donation opportunities.
The donation and transplant process was on display last year during an incredible feat of complex coordination and teamwork, when St. Paul's Hospital transplanted four hearts within 60 hours. This amazing accomplishment helped establish a new record of 31 heart transplants in BC last year (30 at St. Paul's Hospital and one at BC Children's Hospital).
Prem Sagar, who received his transplant during the marathon 60 hours at St. Paul's, celebrated both his 68th birthday and a new heart on the same day. "I was just born again," said Sagar. "My new heart is great and was immediately pumping strong— I feel normal again."
Sagar is grateful to his donor and their family for the gift of life that allows him to be able to carry his four-year-old granddaughter. "I thank my donor family so much for being so generous, though this cannot cover the void from their loss."
Read Prem's full story
There are now more than 1.5 million British Columbians who have registered their decision on organ donation. As of January 1, 2020, 789 people are still waiting for an organ transplant in BC.
British Columbians are encouraged to take two minutes and register their own decision about organ donation and share their wishes with family.