June 22nd, 2024

Green Shirt Day to continue highlighting importance of organ donation

By Lethbridge Herald on March 3, 2023.

Margaret Benson spoke about her experiences as an organ donor recipient and thanked the Boulet family for their work in generating awareness for organ and tissue donation during a Friday announcement at city hall for next month’s Green Shirt Day. Herald photo by Cal Braid

Cal Braid – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Sometimes tragedy can be a catalyst for change. Sometimes it generates awareness and momentum, creating good out of the worst situation.

On April 6, 2018, the Humboldt Broncos team bus was struck by a semi-truck that failed to yield at a Saskatchewan highway intersection. Of the 29 passengers, 16 died. Logan Boulet, a Lethbridge native and Broncos defenceman was one of those, and he succumbed to his injuries the day after the crash.

Well before the accident, Logan told his father that he was registering as an organ donor, inspired by his late coach and mentor Ric Suggitt, who did the same. After being informed that Logan would not recover from the bus accident, his parents, Bernadine and Toby Boulet, donated his organs, giving the gift of life to six waiting recipients.

At a news conference at City Hall on Friday, Mayor Blaine Hyggen announced that April 7 will be designated as Green Shirt Day in the city. Hyggen was emotional at the podium as he spoke to Boulet’s father, mother and sister, who attended, along with representatives from the Canadian Transplant Association, the Kidney Foundation of Canada, and Canadian Blood Services.

Margaret Benson of the Canadian Transplant Association (CTA) is an organ donor recipient who shared her personal experience with illness and failing organs.

“Because of a family like the Boulets, my life was saved,” Benson said. “Twenty-three years ago, I was dying of the lung disease cystic fibrosis.”

Benson was born with the disease and diagnosed at 14, when the life expectancy was 15. She said that “against all odds” she went to high school and university, eventually becoming a teacher. She married and described herself as athletic in spite of her breathing difficulties.

“My health remained reasonably stable until my 30s, and then my lungs started to deteriorate. By the time I reached 38, and after going into congestive heart failure, it was very evident that I needed a double lung transplant.”

She was forced to give up teaching, a profession she was passionate about. She was on oxygen full-time, spent more time at the hospital than at home, and said “I wasn’t living, I was just existing.” In April of 1999, she was placed on the organ transplant waitlist in B.C. She knew that she’d be waiting for a while because her blood type is rare, as was the medical procedure for replacing two lungs.

Later that year, she got the call.

“Dec. 1, my life was saved by an anonymous organ donor. That same donor saved four people’s lives. I was the only double lung transplant done in 1999. I was extremely lucky.”

Afterward in the ICU, as she struggled to find a place to direct her gratitude, her respiratory therapist told her about the CTA and the World Transplant Games. He suggested that she could participate in the Games in honor of her donor. She vowed to live a healthy and active life to the best of her ability, and said that the CTA promotes exactly that, along with honouring the donors and their families.

“I’m a huge advocate for organ and tissue donation.”

She has competed in both World and National Transplant Games and loves to meet and donor families so they can see the impact the donation has on her life.

“I like to meet people like the Boulets, to let them know what an extraordinary gift they gave.”

Trouble arrived again in 2018, when Benson found out that her kidneys were showing signs of failure. By 2019, she was in the hospital with complete kidney failure and on dialysis. She hoped to acquire a transplant from a living donor, and she turned to family and friends because the waiting list in B.C. at that time was three to five years.

Her brother Jim and his daughter were both perfect matches, so Jim went into surgery, giving up one of his kidneys for his sister. They both fared well afterward.

“Organ donation has saved my life twice,” Benson said. “And I’m so lucky to be here today to honour Logan and his amazing decision to be a donor. The Boulet Effect is because of his decision. More than 150,000 people in Canada have registered to be organ donors because of Logan.”

Benson, a north Vancouver resident, noted that in 2021, 529 lives were saved and 66 lung transplants were performed in B.C. alone, while in 1999, there was only one. The Canada-wide Green Shirt Day was created to continue Logan Boulet’s legacy by inspiring Canadians to register as organ donors and to talk to their families about their wishes.

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