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As part of National Organ and Tissue Donation week, along with UHN's Tri-hospital Donor Registration campaign, Alyshia Van Veen shares the story of losing her father-- and the life he gave to others through organ and tissue donation.
Photo: Malcolm Higgins, pictured above with his daughter, Alyshia Van Veen, died following an accident. His organs saved the lives of three people and gave two others their sight back. (Photo: courtesy of Alyshia Van Veen)
…[By] giving your beautiful gift of life, you have given me my father. He will walk me down the aisle now, and dance with me at my wedding. You as our donor family will never be forgotten, each and every day of our lives. - Daughter of one of Malcolm's organ recipients
Alyshia Van Veen still remembers vividly that phone call three years ago– the call that nobody ever wants to receive. Her sister quietly said her name, sobbed, and told Alyshia that their dad had been in a car accident.
In a panic, the family rushed to the hospital and waited for word of whether their dad would live or die.
He held on for five days, raising their hopes that they would be able to talk to him soon, hug him and go for dinner and concerts again– just like they had always done. For Alyshia's dad was full of fun, jokes, and was the lead singer in a hard rock band.
But instead, the physicians told the four children that their dad had a critical brain injury, and would never be able to go home again.
He was being kept alive and breathing by many life-support therapies, including a ventilator. Knowing their dad, a former Toronto police officer and paralegal, would have hated being kept alive in this way, the children and their dad's sister decided to withdraw life support.
Video: Hear Alyshia Van Veen share her dad's story of organ donation: Dear Donor
Malcolm Higgins, 49, died shortly afterwards, surrounded by his children, with AC/DC, one of his favourite rock groups, playing in the background.
Alyshia, who was then 24, remembers the intense emotions as the family made their heartbreaking decision to allow their father to die: fear, gut-churning grief, and an air of unreality that their beloved dad would no longer be with them.
Gift of life
But despite their overwhelming sorrow, the family also remembered that their dad had talked about being an organ donor, and that he encouraged his children and others he would meet to register to become one. They all agreed to honour their father's wishes to donate his organs so that others could benefit.
Their dad met the criteria to donate his lungs, eyes and both kidneys, giving three people the chance to live, and helped two others get their sight back with his corneas.
After the decision to donate was made, Alyshia recalled that a feeling of calm and comfort enveloped the family. The family of a potential donor must give the final consent for donation to the health care team, and the Higgins children knew that organ donation was important to their father.
"The decision to donate dad's organs is something I think about on a daily basis," Alyshia said. "It's comforting to know that a part of him is with the other families. These families received this incredible gift because my dad chose to donate, and made sure we knew about his wishes. He always told us that he did not need his organs after he was gone, but that others would."
Be a donor
Do you have two minutes and your health card? It's all you need to join Alyshia and many others in their quest to increase organ donor registration.Visit: Beadonor.ca/123
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