It is officially National Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 16-22, 2023) and BC Transplant is profiling experiences of two long-term volunteers, Ashley and Cathleen. BCT’s volunteer program would not be possible without the amazing group of individuals that share their connection to organ donation and transplantation at various community events, speaking engagements and initiatives. We are so grateful to these two individuals, and the entire group of almost 200 individuals for their commitment to spreading awareness of organ donation. The theme for this year’s National Volunteer Week is “Weaving us Together” and volunteers like these two profiles shared below, are the reason BC Transplant is able the share inspiring stories of both donation and transplant which showcases the gifts of life.
2016 Kidney Donor through The Living Donor Kidney Program
Ashley Hiebert has been a volunteer with BC Transplant for five years. During her time with the organization, Ashley has been involved with sharing her story publicly, and encouraging people to sign up to be registered organ donors.
She became interested in organ donation after seeing a Facebook post by an old high school friend who shared that his spouse needed a kidney transplant. Without hesitation, Ashley wanted to help. She was not a direct match for her friend’s spouse, but instead she was able to donate to another recipient. Her friend’s spouse found a match through The Kidney Paired Donation Program —a Canada-wide program that uses a computer system to indicate the exact match between kidney donors and their recipients. Ashley has recommended that anyone who is interested in living kidney donation, can get more information by speaking to the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and St. Paul’s Hospital (SPH) Pre-Assessment Transplant Clinics to learn more.
As a volunteer, Ashley always shares key messages around organ donation. She emphasized that people are more likely to need an organ transplant than they are become an organ donor.
She has also always advocated that when people register their decision to become an organ donor, it takes the pressure off a family member to make that decision for their loved one during a difficult time.
“Your organ doesn't have to be perfect. Sometimes it's enough to save somebody for a while and to help them, and it can be in better shape than the organs they have.” Since becoming a living kidney donor, Ashley has been able to continue living her everyday life both recreationally and with her work. A month and a half after the surgery, Ashley went backpacking; and she can freely ride her horse without any complications. While she continues to volunteer with BC Transplant, Ashley is also involved in physically demanding jobs as an interior painter, pet caretaker, and a maintenance caretaker for low income buildings in the Downtown Eastside.
2014 Double-Lung Recipient
Since 2018, Cathleen Falebrinza has been a proud volunteer of BC Transplant.
This all began in mid-2014 when Cathleen was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. The early signs of her diagnosis were easy to ignore so she kept busy with her work. Eventually, Cathleen found that her condition was a terminal diagnosis, and her healthcare provider encouraged her to consider a double-lung transplant.
“Most people who've had transplants can relate to this, the last thing you expect in your life is to have some sort of catastrophic diagnosis… and this is your only chance of living,” Cathleen said.
She began educating herself about the procedure by attending the Transplant Pre-Assessment Clinic. “I had a lovely nurse that was wonderful to me, my husband and the social worker; and we kind of go through all the steps that are involved with having a transplant and being listed” Cathleen said. BC Transplant offers a wide range of services which help patients become physically and mentally prepared before undergoing a transplant procedure.
Throughout her journey, Cathleen has learned that it is not as simple as one may think it is going to be, since receiving a new transplant comes with an opportunity to make changes to one's previous lifestyle. It has offered her a chance to slow down, “It was just a fine balance of learning to put myself first, but still doing what I needed to do.” Cathleen is not short of gratitude towards the program, and everyone who has been involved through her journey. While Cathleen was in post-recovery, her husband created a coffee group, as a way for them to build community and seek support with other caretakers.
She also received support from her employer, the RCMP, who allowed her the necessary time she needs to volunteer with BC Transplant for speaking engagements and to co-host booths at public events occasionally. Cathleen is very passionate about keeping the conversation going about organ transplant. She is always happy to share her experience with the community at these events and hopes it will spark an interest if not encourage registration. Through volunteering with BC Transplant, it has allowed her to continue on her healing journey.
Thanks to wonderful volunteers like Ashley and Cathleen, BC Transplant continues to spread awareness of organ donation and transplantation. People are inspired by all of the stories of volunteers from BCT’s volunteer program. The program is comprised of almost 200 individuals who have a direct connection to organ donation and transplantation. They attend community events, organ donor drives, races, walks, markets, schools and workplaces across the province to raise awareness and register organ donors. This awesome group of individuals drive registration numbers across the province as they continue to weave us together with their time, energy and dedication.