Local transplant recipient urges public to donate organs

Sam Odrowski

While over 1,600 people in Ontario are currently waiting for an organ transplant, only a third of eligible Ontarians are registered donors.

Couchiching FN resident Curtis Jourdain received a heart transplant last July and said he’d like to see reforms to Ontario’s current organ donation laws, where residents have to opt in to be a donor.

Nova Scotia tabled legislation in April that will make it the first jurisdiction in North America where there is presumed organ and tissue donation consent for those over age 19.

Jourdain said he’d like to see Ontario follow suit.

“That’s what I would like to push, is to . . . be a donor automatically,” he remarked.

“It’s really, really scarce when your looking for a heart, lung, kidney, or liver.”

Jourdain’s parents, Glenn and Genevieve, agree and would encourage everybody who is eligible to opt in to organ and tissue donation.

Fort Frances ranks well within the province for registered donors with 55 percent of the eligible population registered.

Ontario places fourth in Ontario for its rate of registered organ donors, falling just behind North Bay, Sudbury, and Kincardine, respectively.

When Jourdain knew he was receiving his new heart he opted to sign it up for cellular research in an effort to help extend the lives of other patients who suffer from Cognetial Heart Defect (CHD), which he has had since birth.

“But when they pulled my whole heart out, they took it out in bits and pieces . . . so they couldn’t use it at all,” he recalled.

“It was like a crust with Jell-O inside of it–it was so bad,”

But before getting approved as a transplant recipient, Jourdain was sure to thank his heart for keeping him going for over a half century, despite all the complications he has endured throughout his 53 years of life.

“I talked to my old heart and I’d thanked it like it was a friend,” he said. “I told it you got to get me through this one more time before you can go to sleep, and take your rest,”

“Then eight days later the new heart it came,” Jourdian smiled.

The one year anniversary for the heart transplant is July 23 shortly after his birthday and Jourdain said he’s eager to celebrate.

“He says he has two birthdays now,” Jourdain’s mother remarked.

“His real birthday is July 10, and he was born again on July 23.”

Jourdain wrote the donor family about two and a half months after the surgery and found out that his donor also helped four other people with his organs.

“I think two weeks later I got a reply back from them and the heart I got was their youngest–it was their son,” he explained.

“I didn’t ask how he had passed but he was very active and the way it sounded, he was in his late teens or early 20s.”

“So this young man’s heart is inside of this 53-year-old man and his organs are helping other people too.”

Jourdain plans on writing to the family again in a couple months to let them know how far the heart has gotten him since his last letter.

Since receiving the 16 and a half hour long heart transplant surgery, he has been making a slow and steady recovery, despite a few hiccups along the way.

“Right now we’re still battling–the blood work is really being effected,” he said.

“I’ve had two bouts of pneumonia, one was in Toronto.”

“I went through a second bout again just this past April into May,” Jourdain added.

Because of the medications he’s been taking since the transplant, he’s had to make some lifestyle changes.

“I’ve got to watch the sun,” Jourdain said. “I can’t wear short sleeves too much right now because I’m more prone to skin cancer.”

His immune system is significantly weaker than normal which also makes common cold or flu significantly more severe.

Jourdain’s donor was also at an increased risk of infections, making him that much more susceptible.

“It’s a different lifestyle I’ve got to live now,” he noted.

“They said the first year is the most dangerous which I didn’t understand until I started going through it.”

Due to Jourdain’s compromised immune system, he has avoided going out to church or places where he’s more likely to get sick.

And even though Jourdain hasn’t been able to get out to church himself, he and his family are very grateful to all who have kept him in their prayers.

“Our community and the surrounding communities–they really rallied behind us,” Jourdain’s mother remarked.

“There’s a lot of people always asking how he is.”

“It doesn’t matter where you go or who you see, the people you don’t even know still ask how he is doing and everyone is very supportive,” she added.

So far, Jourdain has only had one rejection to the heart at the very start of January and he has been doing better since.

“It’s a good marriage right now with this heart,” he said.

Since returning home at the beginning of the year, Jourdain has been back to Toronto five times for biopsies and checkups.

He has been spending most of his time at home, stopping by Walmart or Safeway, and visiting his workplace at the Nanicost building in Couchiching where he has worked as a fire prevention officer since 2007.

Jourdain hopes to return back to work in August.

Prior to the surgery, he had fluid buildup around his lungs and heart which would make him extremely short of breath.

He struggled to go up to the stairs and could only walk for short distances before getting winded.
Since recovering from the surgery his cardio abilities have remarkably improved.

“My dad would joke with me in Toronto when we’re walking down the street; now he says, ‘I can’t keep up with him,'” Jourdain recalled.

“It’s been a significant improvement to my health.”

Since receiving the transplant, he has been a part of the HeartLinks support group that is made up of transplant recipients.

Jourdain said it has been very helpful to relate with people who have went through a similar experience.

In July–one year after the transplant–he hopes to get more active in the community but noted that he’s still has an increased risk of getting sick.

Jourdain’s family would like the thank everyone for all of their support and prayers throughout this experience and are forever grateful to the medical professionals who saved his life.