Sask. Government Suspends Organ Donation Program As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rise

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REGINA – Krystal Graham has been on the liver transplant waiting list for about a year. Now she says she fears COVID-19 may delay her life-saving surgery even longer.

Saskatchewan has indefinitely suspended its organ donation program under the health authority’s COVID-19 emergency plan. At this time, the province will only provide immediate tissue donations, especially for eye patients.

“Unfortunately, this was one of the side effects of the surge capacity management we had to do to support critical care in the province,” said Lori Garchinski, director of tertiary care for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Garchinski said organ donation coordinators are relocated to help intensive care patients in Regina and Saskatoon.

Following the suspension of the program, Garchinski said if an organ donor dies, those organs will not go to anyone.

“Unfortunately, this gift and this recording that they so kindly provided could not come to fruition,” she said.

Graham, 37, suffers from a rare genetic liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). She was diagnosed at the age of nine and received her first liver transplant at the age of 24.

Krystal Graham after her first liver transplant. (Provided: Krystal Graham)

Saskatchewan does not perform liver transplants, which means Graham had to travel to Edmonton for the operation.

The year-long recovery process was difficult as she used multiple anti-rejection drugs, she said, but it was worth it in the end.

“It’s such a great feeling that someone has done this for me,” Graham said.

“I got my life back. “

The disease returned six years ago and she needs a second liver transplant. She said it’s an intimidating process made worse by the suspension of the program.

“It’s incredibly heartbreaking,” said Graham, who became a registered nurse practitioner after her first transplant.

“Not only do I have to understand that I need another transplant and how rare they are already, but now I have to worry even more.”

Graham said there are many factors that go into finding the perfect match, including blood type and organ size. But she says the biggest challenge is the lack of organ donors in the country.

Last September, Saskatchewan launched an online organ and tissue donor registry. Graham encourages people to have this conversation with their family members and to sign up as donors.

According to 2020 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, approximately 4,400 people are waiting for a transplant. Seventy-nine of them are in Saskatchewan.

Last year, two patients in the province died while waiting for a game.

“It’s tricky because (the doctors) don’t know how fast the disease is going to progress, so you kind of wait and see what happens,” she said.

For now, Graham is managing his symptoms with medication, plasma treatments, and regular esophageal tubes. But she said she still suffered from fatigue, nausea, gastrointestinal issues and bleeding from the esophagus.

Graham said a full liver transplant is the only thing that will solve everything.

“The transplants are very difficult and the recovery process is very difficult, but I know that I will take charge of my life, live my life to the fullest and create so many new happy memories,” she said.


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