Double-lung transplant recipient Hélène Campbell was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General in Ottawa Friday morning.
The award, given to Canadians who have performed exceptional deeds, recognizes her efforts to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation. Gov. Gen. David Johnston presented a series of Meritorious Service awards at a Rideau Hall ceremony.
Campbell said she felt overwhelmed to be receiving the award.
She was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal lung disease, when she was 20 years old. She started an online campaign called “Give2Live” in order to raise awareness about organ donation, which quickly spread and caught the attention of celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber.
Campbell received a double-lung transplant in 2012, and since then she has continued to campaign for greater awareness about organ donation.
“I want people to know why I’m still here,” she said. “It’s because someone made that choice in a time that was really hard for them.”
“A lot of what I do every day, I think of my donor and their family, and this is really a way to honour them. I think this medal and this incredible honour really belongs to that family and that donor.”
Currently, Campbell is working with the Canadian National Transplant Research Program to bring patients and researchers together to look at priorities for transplantation. She’s also working to start a fund that will help families with the financial costs of relocating for transplants.
Talking about organ donation can be a difficult conversation, she said. In her experience, people either believe in organ donation or they don’t.
“The conversation needs to be happening at a younger age, and we just need to change the mentality and the culture around it,” Campbell said.
Her sister got married in February, and she was able to stand beside her on her wedding day.
“Everyone who I’ve known was just saying ‘Hélène, it was incredible to see you there, because you wouldn’t have been there had it not been for this second chance.'”
Campbell said she gets a lot of messages from people who are going through experiences similar to hers.
“People reach out to me saying ‘Hey, I’ve been diagnosed with the same disease you had. Can you give me any ideas of what I should be looking for, you know, any tips on what this is like? I’m really scared.'”
“For me, it’s always a blessing to be able to live my experience and help others with what I went through,” Campbell said. “What’s the point of going through something like this if you can’t benefit and help others at the same time?”
She said when she began her campaign, she never imagined that she would reach so many people or receive this kind of attention.
“I didn’t have a plan (where) I hoped to reach this many people and to register this many people. I said, if even one person talks about it with their family, that could affect someone down the road … and that could change someone’s life.”