Jim Lowes had never thought about being an organ donor until he read a story about Logan Boulet nearly three years ago.
Boulet was one of 16 people who died in April 2018 when a truck driver blew a stop sign and drove into the path of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team’s bus in rural Saskatchewan. Thirteen players were injured.
Boulet, 21, had signed up to be an organ donor on his birthday, five weeks before the crash.
“He had already planned on giving his organs,” said Lowes, who lives in Burlington, Ont. “That really struck me.
“What a brilliant young man. Most kids at that age are not thinking about donating their organs.”
Six people across Canada benefited from Boulet’s organs and the Logan Boulet Effect soon followed. Nearly 147,000 Canadians registered to be donors in the two months after learning the player had signed his donor card.
It also led to Green Shirt Day every April 7, the anniversary of Boulet’s death, to promote organ donor awareness and registration across Canada.
Canadian Blood Services says more than a million people have registered a decision about organ donation in the years since Boulet’s death. There are about 12 million Canadians on provincial registries.
Lowes, 61, said he was inspired by Boulet to be a living donor.
“I was too old to donate (part of) my liver … but I checked into the kidney,” he said. “I ended up donating one of my kidneys.”
Canadian Blood Services says the number of living donors increased in 2019 but dropped about 30 per cent to 427 in 2020. Deceased donors also dropped about 21 per cent to 654.
Officials say the decline was due to COVID-19.
“The impact we’ve seen has changed over the year,” said Dr. Norman Kneteman, a transplant surgeon at University of Alberta Hospital and a member on an expert advisory committee with Canadian Blood Services.
During the first wave of COVID-19 last spring, there was fear of the unknown, he said.
“Donation really slowed down and very nearly stopped for awhile.”
Surgeries considered non-essential were delayed. There were fewer trauma patients who might become donors. And there was an early concern about transmission of the novel coronavirus between donor and patient, which he said is extremely rare and can be managed with careful testing.
Kneteman, also a director for the division of transplantation at the U of A, said programs were almost back to normal by summer, and surgeons kept up with transplants during the pandemic’s second wave.
“We did see through the year — 2020 — that we had between 10 and 15 per cent reduction in activity in transplant for all organs,” he said. “We have some catch-up to play there.”
Boulet’s father said his family hopes an online campaign, which started this week, reminds people about organ donation.
“We just want people to register their intent, what they want to do, whether they want to be an organ donor or don’t want to be an organ donor,” Toby Boulet said from Lethbridge, Alta.
He said it’s disappointing organs went unused in the early days of COVID-19.
“We lost many, many chances in Canada to have transplants,” he said.
“There are chances to save lives. There are chances to make people’s lives better and, even though COVID has enveloped and consumed all of us … we can’t forget about organ donation and transplantation.”
Canadian Blood Services said there were some bright spots in 2020.
Newfoundland and Labrador brought in a new way last April for residents to register as organ donors. An online registry started in Saskatchewan last September. Nova Scotia recorded higher donation rates as awareness increased before a presumed consent law that requires people to opt out of organ donation.
“The law came into effect in January, but we had been working on changing the system in preparation for the law for the past 18 months,” said Dr. Stephen Beed, medical adviser for the Nova Scotia organ and tissue donation program.
“We’ve ended up having by far the most successful donation year.”
Beed, who was working in an intensive care unit in Saskatoon the week of the Broncos crash, has a special connection to the Boulet family.
“I was involved in taking care of Logan,” he said. “It’s quite remarkable to think I am living in Nova Scotia and doing a lot of donation-related work here, and then happened to be involved with one of the most tragic and significant donation-related circumstances we’ve had.”
Beed said the crash was noticed around the world.
“To be able to find something positive in the middle of such a tragic circumstance — with Logan’s gift — is something that really resonated and continues to resonate.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021.