April is Organ Donor Awareness Month, but awareness sessions and long-planned events are a little different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local Organ Donor Awareness Month events are usually organized by Deanna Peacock, who required a life-saving double-lung transplant after being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis back in 2012. At one point, prior to the transplant, Peacock was only given two months to live.
Since then, Peacock has teamed with her long-time friend and former caregiver, Margot Crowder-Davidson, to spread awareness about the importance of organ donations.
Already this month events such as the annual flag-raising event, Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital organ donor registration sessions, and Green Shirt Day have been either put on hold or modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are really missing out on doing these sorts of things, but we are hoping to make up for it later,” Peacock said.
“With all these things that we’ve had to cancel, we always try to think outside the box, get creative, and initiate something to take its place.”
The usual flag has been raised at the Orillia Opera House with no gathering to celebrate the occasion, and other events have been taking place virtually.
“For Green Shirt Day as an example, we’ve had people take photos of themselves wearing green and we’ve posted those on our Facebook page," Peacock explained of the event named in homage to the Humboldt Bronco hockey player who donated his organs following the tragedy involving him and his hockey team.
“We’ve had people from Florida to Nashville and from B.C. to Nova Scotia participate, and we are doing that all month long,” Peacock explained
As another way to celebrate Organ Donor Awareness Month, Peacock and Crowder-Davidson have published a book together.
“It’s a story on what we call our journey, it’s called A Story of Transformation, Miracles, and Hope,” Peacock said.
“We’ve been able to send the book out to Toronto General Hospital, Princess Margret Cancer Centre, and different hospitals where organ transportation occurs.”
Peacock started her mission of spreading awareness locally in 2013. For several hours every day she talks to people on the phone about donating organs. It’s become more than a passion to her, it’s a full-time job.
The efforts are paying off.
“We’ve gone from having 23% of local people registered back in 2013, to 40% now," she said of the number of people in Orillia and area committed to donating their organs. "We are above the national percentage, but we have a personal goal of getting to 50% or more.
“We have 1,600 people in Ontario waiting for organs, waiting for transportation, and I’m sure those numbers will be higher now because of COVID.”
Peacock says there are many reasons why people should become organ donors, and she encourages local citizens to act now.
“Your legacy continues on and you become someone’s hero; you definitely don’t need your organs after you’ve died,” she said.
“When you become a donor, you can save up to eight lives through organs, and 75 other lives through tissue. As a donor, you can pick and choose if you want to donate all of your organs and tissues or just some of them, but anything helps," Peacock explained.
Peacock says while over 90 percent of Ontarians support organ donation, only 35 percent have formally registered their consent for organ and tissue donation.
In the 2020 calendar year, 314 deceased organ donors gave the gift of life, 1,135 organ transplants were performed in Ontario, and 1,709 tissue donors enhanced the lives of thousands.