Calgary toddler saves 4 lives through organ donation

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WATCH ABOVE: It's a nightmare most parents can't even think about. How could you cope with the pain of losing a child. Four years ago, Calgary's Jennifer Woolfsmith lost her little girl to a sudden act of violence. But when she thinks back to her daughters final hours in hospital she's overcome, not by sadness, but with pride. Heather Yourex-West explains – Apr 17, 2016

CALGARY – It’s been nearly four years since Jennifer Woolfsmith suffered an unimaginable loss.

“On the first evening that we were in the hospital with Mackenzy, the doctors really let us know there was no good outcome.”

Twenty-two-month-old Mackenzy had suffered a devastating injury and was declared brain dead. Learning their daughter would never come home was a moment of heartbreaking grief for her parents, but Woolfsmith said there was also clarity. She and her husband knew exactly what their daughter would want to do.

“One of the first questions my husband asked was, ‘can we donate her organs?’

Being an organ donor is more difficult than many people realize, because the circumstances around a patient’s death have to be very specific. As a result, less than one per cent of those who register as donors will ever have the opportunity to make that life-saving gift.

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“You do have to die in a unique way, in an intensive care unit,” said Ryan Baht, the southern Alberta organ donor coordinator for Alberta Health Services. “So a lot of people do wish to become organ donors, but only a very few people meet the criteria.”

Woolfsmith said Mackenzy was almost disqualified as a donor. In order to keep her organs viable for transplant, her little heart had to keep beating.

“Mackenzy wasn’t passive in the process. She had to fight for three days in the hospital and she was touch-and-go for quite a few times over those three days.”

Jennifer Woolfsmith

In the end, Mackenzy’s heart never stopped beating and today it–along with her liver and kidneys–are giving others life. Woolfsmith only knows her daughter’s liver went to help another very sick little girl, but she’s not yet met any of the other families Mackenzy was able to help. She said she doesn’t need to.

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“I have this picture of these families and it’s a happy picture to me. These kids are doing amazing things that Mackenzy might not be able to do, but they’re doing them.”

“It gives you the ability to live through some of the grief.”

There are about 4,500 Canadians waiting for an organ transplant at any given time across the country. A single donor can save up to eight lives.

This year, Global News is aiming to start 48,000 conversations about organ and tissue donation within a 48-hour timeframe starting on April 18. We’re partnering with provincial transplant organizations and in hopes of getting more Canadians to sign up as organ donors.