Prevention & Recovery

Organ donation: What you need to know

By: Kat Tancock

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

Organ donation: What you need to know

By: Kat Tancock

About a third of organs that could be donated are lost because potential donors didn't make their families aware of their wishes, according to the British Columbia Transplant Society. And many of those waiting for an organ transplant in Canada die on the waiting list. So, if you're interested in donating your organs after you're gone, or if you want to make that decision for your children, there are certain steps you should make to ensure that it happens. Here are the details on becoming an organ donor in Canada.

Donation basics
Every province has its own way of keeping track of who wants to be an organ donor, but during the window of opportunity, it's the next-of-kin who will give the approval in most provinces, whether you intended to be a donor or not. For this reason, it's vital that you discuss organ donation with your family so that they know your wishes in case of your death. Once you feel your kids are old enough, talk about organ donation with them, too.

Who can donate?
Everyone should consider themselves potential donors, according to the Canadian Association of Transplantation, no matter your age or medical history. Even if your organs can't be used, it's likely that you can be a tissue donor, giving anything from corneas to heart valves to a needy recipient. So make sure to give organ donation serious thought -- you could save lives.

A province-by-province guide
Since health care is a provincial matter in Canada, every province has its own ways of handling organ donor registries. Here are the details for each province.

British Columbia
The British Columbia Transplant Society maintains a legally binding organ donor registry, which has replaced all previous methods of indicating intent to donate organs. You can register on the Transplant Society's website, by phone (1-800-663-6189) or by mail-in form -- click here for details.

Alberta, Nunavut and Northwest Territories
Alberta does not have an organ donor registry at this time, although you can make your wishes known by signing the back of your health card.

For more information, contact the H.O.P.E. (Human Organ Procurement and Exchange) Program:
• For Calgary and southern Alberta, call 403-944-8700
• For Edmonton and northern Alberta, as well as for Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, call 780-407-8411

Yukon
Yukon Health and Social Services offers information on becoming a donor on its website. For information on how to become an organ donor with the Yukon Organ Donor Program, call 1-867-667-5209 or 1-800-661-0408, local 5209.

Saskatchewan
To show that you want to become a potential donor in Saskatchewan, place the orange "organ and tissue donor" sticker (included in each health services card package) on your health card. More information is available on Saskatchewan Health's website or by calling them at 1-800-667-7551.

Manitoba
To become an organ donor in Manitoba, in addition to informing your family of your wishes, you should sign a donor card and carry it with your health card. Donor cards are available from Manitoba Health's website or by calling 204-787-1897.

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Ontario
In Ontario, you can show your intent to be an organ donor by carrying a signed donor card. Cards are included with new and renewed driver's licenses and available through the Trillium Gift of Life Network (call 416-363-4001 or 1-800-263-2833), at Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care offices and at some Ministry of Transportation offices. You can also register your wishes and have them linked to your health card with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care -- visit their website to obtain the Organ and Tissue Donor Registration Form.

Quebec
To indicate your willingness to donate organs and tissues in Quebec, obtain a free donation sticker and apply it to your health card. Stickers are available at CLSCs, hospitals or drugstores.

Quebec Transplant coordinates organ donation in Quebec. For more information, visit their website, or phone them at 1-877-463-6366.

Nova Scotia
In Nova Scotia you can register your wish for organ and tissue donation on your health card on renewal. You can also call MSI at 1-800-563-8880 and a donor registration form will be mailed to you. Capital Health offers more information on organ donation in Nova Scotia.

New Brunswick
New Medicare cards have your wishes about organ donation clearly displayed; you can make your intent known on your renewal form. If you would like to show your desire to become a donor before your card is up for renewal, contact Service New Brunswick at 1-888-762-8600.

Newfoundland and Labrador
In Newfoundland and Labrador, you can show you wish to be a donor by signing a donor card or indicating your decision on your driver's license. For more information, contact the Department of Health and Community Services at 709-729-4984.

Prince Edward Island
According to InfoPEI, the province doesn't have an organ donor card, but there are a number of ways to make your wishes known, in addition to discussing them with your family:
• You can place a red sticker on your P.E.I. health card. The sticker is mailed to you with your health card renewal form.
• You can have a red heart engraved on your driver's license at the time of renewal. If you have already renewed your driver's license, you can still go to the Ministry of Transportation offices and they will add it for free.
• You can express your wish to donate organs and tissues in writing when preparing your health care directive.

For more information
Canadian Association of Transplantation -- Myths and facts
The Organ Donation and Transplant Association of Canada -- Frequently asked questions
British Columbia Transplant Society -- Frequently asked questions

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Prevention & Recovery

Organ donation: What you need to know