There is always one patient Dr. Julian Mackenzie-Feder remembers when he thinks about the incredible impact of organ donation. While completing his internal medicine rotations in Vancouver for his residency training, Dr. Mackenzie-Feder cared for a woman who had a cardiomyopathy, a disorder of the heart muscle.
“She had a very rocky course and I always seemed to be the one on call at night when she would get into trouble, whether I was on my cardiology, gastroenterology, respiratory or other service rotation,” recalls Dr. Mackenzie-Feder, now an intensivist at Kelowna General Hospital.
Over the course of a year, he saw this patient often and got to know her quite well. But years passed with many more patients. Then, when Dr. Mackenzie-Feder was at St. Paul’s Hospital for his Intensive Care Unit fellowship, a familiar face walked through the doors of the ICU, but this time, not as a patient.
“I’ll never forget that moment. There she was, holding a giant tin of popcorn. She had received a heart transplant six months prior and was doing exceptionally well,” remarks Dr. Mackenzie-Feder. “She looked so much healthier and happier than when I had last seen her. We immediately recognized one another, ran over and gave each other a massive hug. It was one of my favourite moments within clinical medicine.”
That was Dr. Mackenzie-Feder’s first introduction to Operation Popcorn, a week-long event organized by BC Transplant. Now in its 32nd year, Op Pop, as it’s called, delivers festive cheer to health care teams around the province to thank them for all their hard work to support organ donation year-round. This year, 80 volunteers will visit 30 health care sites, delivering more than 120 boxes filled with popcorn. They’ll also bring with them the gratitude of fellow transplant recipients, living donors and donor families.
With the provincial transplant programs located at Vancouver General Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital, and BC Children’s Hospital, many health care professionals in the intensive care units, emergency departments and operating rooms around B.C. only see the tragic side of organ donation as they support families of donors.
Dr. Mackenzie-Feder will take part in this year’s deliveries to Kelowna General Hospital as BC Transplant’s organ donation physician lead for Interior Health.
“In Kelowna, we don't perform organ implantations. This can sometimes make it more difficult to experience the direct effect we have on transplant recipients and their families,” he explains. “This is why we, as health care workers, love events like Operation Popcorn where we get to meet some of these grateful recipients and hear their stories first hand.”
Dr. Mackenzie-Feder has always believed organ donation should be offered as part of compassionate end-of-life care. Part of his role as organ donation physician lead involves educating fellow health care professionals at other hospitals throughout Interior Health.
“Losing a loved one is always going to be one of the worst moments people can experience, but I think with appropriate support and purpose at end of life, such as that which can be provided by organ donation, there can be a little bit of light in an otherwise abhorrent scenario,” comments Dr. Mackenzie-Feder. “Organ donation is a beautiful gift that can be given to others - it helps to give meaning to the loss and tragedy, which can otherwise seem so meaningless.”
Operation Popcorn takes place from December 4 to 8, 2023. You can follow along on the BC Transplant social media channels.
In this season of giving, British Columbians are encouraged to take two minutes to register as an organ donor at www.taketwominutes.ca. You can give hope to the more than 500 people and their families waiting for the call that will change their lives.