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N.B. woman first in province to donate organs after MAID

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When Sharron Demchuk was dealt a difficult hand in her late sixties, her husband says she immediately tried to find the good in it.

Her whole life was dedicated to making people happy, and an ALS diagnosis wasn’t going to be any different, says Ronald Demchuk.

“She was more than the love of my life. She was just an incredible woman, in all ways, shapes and forms,” he said from his home in Moncton.

With her family’s support, Sharron started the process of ‘MAID’ – medical assistance in dying. Once approved, her family says she pushed her doctors to consider a way she could help people, after she died.

“This was something that no one had done before and, even in the early days when they said it wasn’t possible, she kept doing follow-ups, kept pushing and even though she wasn’t able to speak, she would make notes for my dad. ‘Here’s what I want you to ask them. Here’s what I want you to say,’” said her daughter Darlene Demchuk.

When most think of organ donation, they assume it’s after someone has suffered brain trauma, or neurological death. However, doctors at Vitalité Health have been working on allowing those who suffer cardiocirculatory death – a sudden stop of the heart – to donate certain organs, like the kidneys, liver and lungs.

“In 2019, we did a pilot project at the Dumont Hospital where we started to do DCD - organ donation after cardiovascular death,” said Dr. Rémi LeBlanc, internist at Dr. Georges L. Dumont University Hospital Centre and organ donation physician.

“This was something that was already done elsewhere in Canada but we started that here at the Dumont Hospital and eventually we brought it out to the Saint John Regional Hospital, who are also able to do it. DCD has actually helped us increase organ donation about 25 per cent from 2018 to 2021. So that’s a lot more organs that we’re able to give to patients on waiting lists.”

But to harvest the organs of someone who died with medical assistance – that had never been done before in N.B.

It wasn’t until Sept. 15, 2021, when Sharron Demchuk donated her kidneys to a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s and her lungs to a woman in her 50s.

Ronald says Sharron was still thinking of how she could help others that morning.

“She asked the girls if they would cut her hair off so she could donate it to kids with cancer, so they could make some wigs. That morning, as she was going to pass away, how she even thought of that, I have no idea,” he said.

Her daughters Ronda and Darlene say Sharron’s legacy can live on by encouraging more to consider organ donation.

“For a person to have to live with an every day struggle of not being about to talk, eat, drink and even in the last year, physical disabilities because of the illness, it just goes to show if you put your mind to something and make something happen you can make the world a better place,” Darlene said.

Dr. LeBlanc is also hoping more will consider speaking to their loved ones about organ donation.

He says he’s proud of the team that has worked on making DCD organ donations a reality in N.B.

“That’s even with COVID and all of the restrictions we’ve actually increased the numbers of donation. That’s been done through DCD but also through all the hard work that the people from the organ donation teams in New Brunswick have done to talk to families, talk to patients and make sure the population is aware,” he said.

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