Shane Dehod's new heart was one of a record 306 organ transplants in B.C. last year.
The Prince George man had a heart transplant on Oct. 28 and is recovering well at home. B.C. Transplant executive director Dr. Greg Grant said the success of the program relies on people and families being willing to donate.
"It really comes down to people saying yes," Grant said. "We were asking more people and more families and the end of their loved ones lives about donation and more people were saying yes and that's exciting."
Despite breaking the previous record of 295 transplants set in 2010, only 18 per cent of people in B.C. have registered for organ donation, a number Grant would like to see increase significantly. Donor cards are sent to people when they renew driver's licences and health cards and people can also sign up online at www.transplant.bc.ca.
The website also has a function which allows people to check to see their donation status by entering their care card.
Ottawa's Helene Campbell and her double lung transplant made international headlines last year, especially after her appearance on the television show Ellen. Grant said the exposure helped raise the profile of organ donations and cited a new Facebook organ donation feature for spurring conversations.
Still, more needs to be done.
"Four years ago B.C. was in the bottom 25 per cent in terms of donation in Canada and we've made some changes," Grant said. "We've looked around the world and said, what did those really successful programs do and the biggest thing is they have local support in hospitals."
Physicians who have spent countless hours with patients trying to keep them alive often find it difficult to ask family members about organ donations after the patient dies so B.C. Transplant is training staff in some hospitals to be able to come in and ask the difficult questions.
B.C. faces additional challenges due to its vast geography. In Dehod's case that meant being able to get to Vancouver within four hour's notice.
"Our geography is challenging not just because it's big but because we have nasty winters, we have airports that close, we have big mountains and poor flying [conditions]," Grant said, noting in some cases some people have to move closer to transplant centres to get on a wait list.
Once on the list, the likelihood of getting an organ is dependent on number of people of similar genetics who are willing to donate.
"I'm of European heritage and I'm lucky if I ever need an organ because there are many donors that are also of European heritage," Grant said, noting that the same can't be said for all ethnic groups.
B.C. Transplant is working to raise awareness and build trust among groups where donation has been historically low.
Although each province keeps its own registry, organs are shared between provinces on a needs basis. Grant said the reciprocal relationships need to be more formalized and the provinces are working with the Canadian Blood Services to create a national wait list.
There's also a national paired exchange program for living donors who aren't the right match for a loved one.
"If my wife needed a kidney, I might not be the right blood type," Grant explained. "I might be able to donate to someone in Calgary, who would donate to someone in Toronto, who would donate to someone in Quebec, who is the perfect match for my wife."
Of the record transplants in B.C. last year, 16 were hearts, 25 were lungs, 65 were livers and 194 were kidneys. Ninety living people donated organs and there were 70 deceased donors.
Grant said the reason for choosing to donate comes down to the impact it can have on someone else's life.
"We can take people who are at death's door and they get a new lease on life," he said. "They get many, many years."