Like much of the world, when COVID-19 hit, Michael Brown spent a lot of time at home. He often ended up walking around his neighbourhood in East Vancouver, especially the park next door.
"A lot of people were hanging out during the pandemic, many of them spending all day there, so Michael adopted Dude Chilling Park," remembers his wife, Jaclyn Ko. "He went beyond casual encounters; he talked and listened to people, started recognizing them, and helped those in need."
Michael gardening at Dude Chilling Park in Vancouver
Jaclyn, who first met Michael in childhood, says he was always checking on people. On their way to dinner, or during a walk, he always had his eyes open to see if anyone needed help. One time, that help even included haircuts. When someone said they really just needed a trim, Michael grabbed his buzzer, parked his truck right next to the park and set up a temporary barber shop within a few hours of the ask.
Michael also applied his learning from emergency medical technician training to become a 'street medic,' carrying around a large first aid kit stocked with bandages, gauze, antiseptic, a tourniquet and Naloxone kits. He saved at least seven people from overdoses with those kits.
"Whether it was a kid who scraped their knee at the park, a car accident, or someone with larger needs, Michael was there," Jaclyn comments.
His parents, Ross and Mary Brown, weren't surprised by any of this.
"Michael always felt for the underdog and often helped those with less than he had. He wanted to make a positive difference in this world. His motto was to always leave a place or a situation better than he found it."
Organ donation was part of family conversation
Michael's decision to sign up as an organ donor when he received his driver's licence at 20 years of age was a natural extension of his upbringing.
Growing up with a father who was a military trauma surgeon, a mother who was a microbiologist and biology teacher, Michael and his brother were surrounded by medicine and science. Organ donation was something that came up in family conversations. Ross talked about his positive experiences with donation and transplant as a surgeon. Mary discussed organ donation with her high school students and the boys.
Jaclyn, also a high school biology teacher, recalls a conversation they had together as they looked at the organ donor registry forms. "There was no hesitation. He said, 'I don't need these organs when I die but someone else may need them.'"
"We knew his decision was motivated by the idea that if someone could use his tissues and organs when he no longer could, then he should make them available to make someone else's life better," states Mary.
Honouring Michael's final wishes to help others
So last August, when an accident while surfing off the coast of Tofino left Michael with a non-recoverable brain injury, his family knew exactly what he would have wanted.
"Organ donation was so important to Michael and to our family," emphasizes Jaclyn. "We asked the medical team to do everything possible to help ensure it happened; these are life-saving gifts. It was Michael's wish and we were determined to make donation happen. The entire ICU and BC transplant team were extraordinary in doing everything to ensure Michael survived to donation."
Jaclyn and her family spent eight days at Michael's bedside in Victoria General Hospital. She remembers looking out the window early in the morning before he passed. The sun hadn't risen yet but the moon was huge and prominent in the sky.
"Michael loved everything about the cosmos and the night before his accident, he had spent an evening going over all the constellations with me. It seemed so fitting that on his last day there was a super blue moon, which only occurs about once every decade," Jaclyn shares.
Michael ended up saving or transforming 10 lives by donating his organs, including his eyes. He was 36 years old.
Living on through organ donation
Michael was always spending time outdoors, whether it was hiking, kayaking, cycling or camping. He loved all of it and he introduced Jaclyn to his world throughout their 19 years together. She admits she wasn't really an 'outdoorsy' person until their friendship turned to dating, and later marriage. Michael even proposed to her while on a cycling trip in France, one of Jaclyn's many fond memories of all their travels and adventures.
"He was always about living life to the fullest, to push yourself, to do that little extra that you didn't think you could do, to really find beauty in life, and do the things that you enjoy and spend time with the people you love. He had so much love to share."
Now Michael's love lives on through organ donation. It doesn't take away the pain of seeing the empty chair at family gatherings, but his family says it brings them so much solace.
"Michael's impact in the world continues to ripple outwards, in a very positive way," reflects Mary. "His actions have not just improved the lives of 10 recipients, but the lives of their families and friends as well. Isn't that the definition of a life well lived? It makes his death seem just a bit less senseless. It makes our hearts swell with pride."
"No one ever thinks these types of things are going to happen to them, but they can and do happen," says Jaclyn. "I hope that sharing his story with others will help normalize these hard, but important, conversations. It is very emotional sharing our story, but I know it would be what Michael wants - to continue to encourage others to help each other."
As of December 31, 2023, there are 512 British Columbians still waiting for their second chance at life. It takes two minutes to register as an organ donor and British Columbians are encouraged to take action at www.taketwominutes.ca and then share their decision with loved ones.
B.C. has a Take Home Naloxone program in place to reduce the harm and deaths associated with opioid overdoses. The program provides training in overdose prevention, recognition, and first aid response.