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Krista Winnig has seen both sides of the organ donation process – giving and receiving.
For the 35-year-old Chilliwack resident, the first instance came when her best friend Joanne was in need of a new liver.
"Joanne is absolutely amazing; she is the best friend a person could ever ask for. We have been friends since we were 13 years old," Krista recalls. "We would get into trouble together, have sleepovers, meet new people, and always have fun."
Joanne started to feel sick when the pair were in their early twenties. "My partner in crime was slowly getting worse and worse, to the point where it was hard to get her out of her dark basement suite," she explains, fearing that Joanne was facing the inevitable.
Joanne had a couple of trial runs where she went in hoping to get a new liver; it did not work out. "It was so hard to watch her go through the pain and the years of not knowing what was going on with her body – then the years of trial and error with the drugs; some days it looked like she was eight months pregnant," Krista says.
A transplant was eventually made available, and within one week, Krista says she had her best friend back.
"Her whole demeanor had changed."
But the complexities from the situation left both with much to ponder about life; feeling sad for the family who lost a loved one but feeling grateful for the technology and positive outcome.
Joanne was also the only reason Krista's family even knew about the option to become a donor.
She is the reason Krista's sister, Madeline, decided to fill out the form.
"My baby sister Maddy and her boyfriend Hayden were killed in a car accident in 2019," Krista says. "The man in the other car drove through a stop sign, killing Hayden instantly [and] putting Maddy into a coma."
Madeline sustained many injuries, but what ultimately took her life was the impact she received to her brain. "She was far too young to die," Krista says. "She was such an old soul; honestly, the loveliest person you could ever meet. I would be looking for something in the kitchen and I would turn and she would just hand it to me."
(Sisters Maddy and Kristen)
Krista describes her sister as someone who wanted to help and make everyone smile. She says Madeline was never judgmental and just loved everyone for who they were.
"No one could hug as good as her or had the presence she had; you just felt warm being with her," Krista adds.
Because she had signed up to be a donor, Madeline, who was 23 at the time of her passing, was able to save multiple lives.
"My sister was able to donate five organs and is a hero," Krista says.
Looking back, Krista cannot say enough good things about the organ donation process – noting a nurse named Amanda that became an "honorary member" of the family because of her warmth and support during the difficult time.
"It was such an awful depressing time, and honestly, the thought that Maddy was able to help other families not lose a loved one made me and my family feel a little better," she says.
(Krista's daughter at a Transplant Heroes garden)
Krista has since become a volunteer with BC Transplant in the hopes she can help spread the word about becoming an organ donor.
"No one wants to ever see their loved one in a situation like this, but if everyone just has a quick, easy conversation while everyone is safe and healthy, at least you will know what they want. When you get to make that choice, you will know you are making the right one."
Written by: Ryan Uytdewilligen, BC Transplant Volunteer