Heart / Lung Transplant

Grateful volunteer visits St. Paul’s Hospital exactly 20 years after heart transplant

Dr. Anson Cheung and heart-transplant recipient Eunice Barriga meet 20 years to the date after Dr. Cheung performed her surgery. Barriga was at St. Paul's Hospital as part of BC Transplant's annual Operation Popcorn campaign.

A woman who received a heart transplant at St. Paul’s Hospital 20 years ago to the date today is marking the milestone by volunteering with BC Transplant’s annual Operation Popcorn campaign.

Eunice Barriga, a 71-year-old mother of three adult children, celebrated the anniversary with a visit to Dr. Anson Cheung, the St. Paul’s transplant surgeon who performed the life-saving operation on December 5, 2002.

Donor heart an “unselfish gift” that gave her years she wouldn’t have had

She and other volunteers then delivered popcorn to the OR and ICU teams at the hospital.

“Because of a family’s unselfish gift, I have enjoyed a life with my family with so many wonderful years that I would not have had otherwise,” says Barriga. “I have travelled. I have met wonderful people through my volunteer work.”

She says Operation Popcorn, where she has volunteered for 15 years, gives her the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the health-care team for all they do.  

Surgeon fairly new to St. Paul’s before Barriga’s transplant

Dr. Cheung remembers Barriga’s surgery well. “I had just started at St. Paul’s in 2000 – only two years before her transplant. She was very ill, he recalls, and needed a five-month hospital stay after her surgery.

“I love to see patients doing so well (afterwards),” he says.

Barriga is Portuguese and Dr. Cheung’s wife is from the Portuguese colony of Macau so they bonded over their backgrounds, he says.

Operation Popcorn has taken place each Christmas season for 31 years. Volunteer transplant recipients, living donors and families of deceased donors deliver festive packages of popcorn to hospitals across BC and share their stories with health-care staff.

Eunice Barriga (left in black shirt) and 20-year kidney recipient Croft Bain (right in black shirt) bring their special deliveries to St. Paul’s Hospital’s ICU staff today.

The campaign is their reminder of the people whose lives have been affected through the work of health professionals supporting organ donors at the end of life.

This year, 85 volunteers will deliver popcorn to 28 hospitals across the province.

Sign up here this season of giving

In this season of giving, British Columbians are encouraged to take two minutes to register as an organ donor at www.taketwominutes.ca . You can give hope to the more than 500 people and their families waiting for an organ transplant.

Dr. Cheung says Barriga is an inspiration for people who are unfamiliar with transplant. She is proof it can enable so many people to live a full, normal life.

Dr. Cheung and Eunice Barriga

“Twenty years is a great milestone for a heart transplant patient. You’d never guess she’s had one.”