Have a heart! Register for organ donation

Robin Lapointe talks about his heart transplant

In 2016 Robin Lapointe’s heart was no longer responding to lifesaving medication.

Having already given up his favourite pastime, golf, his heart had gone into full burnout and his only option to live was to have a heart transplant.

Robin was diagnosed in the mid 1980’s with a congenital heart disease, and despite instructions from physicians to stop exercising, he carried on playing another of his favourite sports, hockey.

In the early 2000s when it was clear that his heart would fail him an implant was inserted into his chest, a small defibrillator that would deliver a shock to his heart whenever it stopped beating.

“There is a one in 20 chance that your heart can burn out. It got to the point that I couldn’t walk three houses up the road,” said Robin.

He was put onto a transplant list, and to improve his chances of receiving a heart, moved down to Vancouver and found a house what was ordinarily an eight-minute walk from St. Paul’s Hospital.

For Robin, however, it was a 20-minute walk and involved stopping to rest a number of times.

He had to visit the hospital a number of times as part of the pre-operative preparation, which involves visits to everyone from a psychiatrist to a social worker, as well as a full organ scan.

“You have to wait patiently when you’re put onto a transplant list. We were expecting it to take between three and six months for a new heart,” said Robin.

However, soon after moving to Vancouver, on October 13 last year Robin received a phone call from the hospital – they wanted him there – there was a potential heart for him.

He walked to the hospital in pouring rain, stopping four times on the way to rest.

Even though there is a donor heart, it isn’t a guarantee that it will match the recipient. Robin was in luck, though, and the surgery went ahead, which typically lasts between four to six hours. During Robin’s surgery only the ventricles from the donor heart were implanted – the surgeons didn’t remove the existing heart’s atriums.

There are two atriums in the human heart, which receive blood – the left atrium from the lungs, and the right atrium from the venous circulation. When the heart contracts blood is pumped to the ventricles.

The ventricles are the lower two heart chambers that function to pump blood out of the heart to the entire body.

“When they took it out I was allowed to hold it. It was so surreal – who gets to hold their own heart?” asked Robin.

Ten months later after the transplant Robin was back on the golf course, competing in his first ever Canadian Transplant Games (CTG) in July.

His experience has motivated him to become a champion for organ donation.

“It’s ironic – while 90 per cent of people surveyed are in favour of organ donation, only 20 per cent of those people were registered,” said Robin.

He says many people are afraid of registering as organ donors because of misinformation.

“People have the wrong image, that their organs will be harvested while they’re alive,” said Robin.

He said volunteering and assisting donor families with getting through the healing process also gave him a better understanding of just how important it is to become a donor.

“Wouldn’t you want to know that when you die there are a number of people who could get to live?” asked Robin.

He said once a person is registered as a donor, the next of kin don’t have to make the decision.

“If you’ve said yes to organ donation, it helps your family with the healing,” said Robin.

He said the recipient of the organ is allowed to write a card to the donor family.

“I received a very emotional response from them. I’ve already replied. I may even get to meet the donor’s family after a year,” said Robin. “However, it is up to them whether they want to meet me.”

If you wish to register as an organ donor, you can register online at www.register.transplant.bc.ca/ or print and complete a paper registration form which is available at ICBC and Service BC offices.

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