By Brandon Gillet
Organ donor advocate and double lung transplant recipient Hélène Campbell visited Algonquin on Nov. 26 to tell her story in honour of the Best Gift Ever campaign.
Speaking alongside her was Algonquin pre-health and science student Robert Martinho about his experience as a young child struggling through multiple corrective surgeries while awaiting a donor for a liver transplant. Now, having found that donor, he is on the road to recovery and a full life thanks to one person checking “yes” under organ donation.
“I was thrilled to take part in this event because organ donation saved my life and now I am trying to give back by promoting awareness,” said Martinho. “It was amazing to spend time with Hélène because she has done so much for organ donation. I like to think we are a great team.”
Campbell told her story of a young, happy and energetic girl who discovered unusual breathing after returning from a backpacking trip across the U.K.
After hearing the words that she had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis- condition causing scarring of lung tissue and is ultimately fatal- and little time or options without a double lung transplant, Campbell opted to stay strong. After increasing struggles with her condition she finally moved to Toronto and underwent the procedure.
She started the #BeAnOrganDonor movement on Twitter in hopes of reaching out to singer Justin Bieber through Twitter. Bieber responded to her tweets and joined the fight.
“Within that week we had 2000 organ donor registrations a day, which the average is 50,” said Campbell.
She couldn’t have made it this far without her crucial support system.
“I have a great family, they are my support, they are the reason I am who I am today,” said Campbell. “My friends as well have been instrumental in my life as support, and they are the reason I’m still so strong.”
The visit from Campbell and the Best Gift Ever campaign has been the handiwork of four dedicated nursing students at Algonquin.
Shannon Gemmell, a fourth year bachelor of science in nursing student, along with friends and classmates Sondra Higginson, Erica Mallory and Melissa Kroll, did their practical community placement in the form of an organ donor campaign. With Kevin Holmes of the health and wellness centre as their preceptor, the Best Gift Ever organization was born.
“Kevin got us started on the campaign so he was really the passion that fueled us,” said Gemmell.
Registered with beadonor.ca, the idea was to spread awareness around the college and collect as many registrants as they could over the duration of their term. They meet every Tuesday to explore ways to connect with as many people as possible.
Holmes said it would be great to have a speaker with personal experience. They tossed around Campbell’s name and luckily there was a link to her within the group of nursing students.
“She was very willing to come knowing it was for a nursing project, she was very excited to come and talk,” said Mallory. “It’s great too because something that we found through our research is people don’t necessarily know how to get involved and they don’t feel involved because it’s a very personal matter. So we thought bringing someone of this demographic, she is a young women, double lung transplant, that’s a really personal level so we think getting her to share her story will get more people on board.”
The event drew a large crowd, practically filling the entire lower area of the ACCE building opposite the living wall. According to Gemmell, and the rest of the group, it couldn’t have gone any better.
“We were all a little stressed this morning but it came together really well,” said Gemmell.
“It was a great turn out because Shannon, Erica, Sondra and Melissa that did such a great job organizing and promoting this event,” said Martinho.
The issue is felt strongly by the students on the Best Gift Ever team and they are proud to have come as far as they have.
“We all agree with being an organ donor, we don’t see a reason not to,” said Higginson. “So we kind of just jumped in and said let’s go.”
“Being in nursing we see sometimes the people at their bedside are people who are waiting for an organ,” said Gemmell.
The Best Gift Ever campaign will continue at Algonquin as the health and wellness research centre, a division of the office of applied research and innovation, has now adopted it as their cause.