Kidney & Renal Kidney Failure Transplant

Record numbers of BCers receive gift of life in 2023 from generous organ donors

Heatlher Martin and nurse Kim wave to the camera. Heather received a new kidney thanks to a deceased organ donor.
L-R: Kidney-transplant recipient Heather Martin after her surgery at St. Paul's Hospital, with nurse Kim Neypes.

A record-breaking 563 people received organ transplants in 2023 thanks to the generosity of a record 160 deceased organ donors and their families and 77 living donors. Now more than 6100 British Columbians are alive today because of organ donation.

“Organ donation is such a selfless gift and when we register to become an organ donor we feel great,” says Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Living donors who choose to undergo surgery to save a life and deceased donors and their families who make such a courageous decision amidst their profound loss are truly inspiring, along with all the health care professionals who support organ donation and transplantation across our province.”

A tragic accident brings the gift of life

After a tragic surfing accident in Tofino, Michael Brown became one of the 160 deceased donors who gave the gift of life last year. The 36-year-old Vancouver man was a registered organ donor.

Michael Brown, pictured on one of his many adventures.

“Michael always tried to live life to the fullest,” says his wife, Jaclyn Ko. “One of his most enduring traits was his unwavering commitment to care for those in need. Now, through organ donation, his legacy of compassion lives on.”

Michael’s generosity contributed to several other milestones achieved in 2023. There were a record number of liver transplants (112 compared to 101 in 2022), a record number of lung transplants (77 compared to the previous record of 66 in 2021), a record number of kidney transplants (353 compared to the previous record of 342 in 2021), as well as 22 heart transplants and 12 pancreas and islet transplants. (Numbers include multi-organ transplants, of which there was a new record of eight combined kidney/pancreas transplants.)

“Upwards of 150 health care professionals are involved in one donor case, from organ recovery to transplant,” says Dr. John Yee, provincial medical director of the lung transplant program. “It is an incredibly complicated medical undertaking, but it is such a privilege to witness our patients transform from critically ill to healthy individuals who are able to return to life.”

BC Transplant continues to invest in foundational elements to support health partners to increase donation and transplantation. This includes education of health care professionals and donation physicians and a robust network of in-hospital transplant coordinators. Hospital referrals of potential deceased donors reached a record 989 times in 2023, which is up 13 per cent from the previous year of 875 referrals.

B.C.’s deceased donors per million rate is 28.8, making it the leader in Canada and placing it amongst the top jurisdictions in the world for deceased donation. This is testament to the work BC Transplant has done, together with all the donor hospital teams around the province, to build the systems and infrastructure capacity of organ donation and transplant programs, and to normalize conversations around organ donation.

“All the donors and families who have consented to organ donation have made a deep and profound impact on hundreds of British Columbians,” says Dr. Sean Keenan, provincial medical director of donations services at BC Transplant. “We believe every family has the right to consider organ donation at the end of life, and we are committed to providing compassion and support to donor families.”

Heather gets a new lease on life thanks to deceased donor

Heather Martin was a patient at St. Paul’s Hospital who received a kidney from a generous donor back in October, 2023. After 15 years of kidney disease, two of which required her to be on dialysis, she was ready for a new lease on life.

“I have absolute gratitude for my donor and their family that they were so generous in a very difficult time. ‘Thank you’ can’t begin to encompass what I feel,” says Martin. She adds that the care she received from nurses, doctors and staff at St. Paul’s was so personalized and comprehensive she felt as if she had her own “concierge” service.

Martin is now recovering at home and feeling great. At her last transplant clinic appointment, her tests showed that her kidney numbers are the equivalent to someone with two healthy kidneys. She’s out walking regularly to get back into hiking shape, and is looking forward to rejoining the scrabble club she plays with out in Chilliwack.

Register to be a donor

As of December 31, 2023, there are 512 people still waiting for their second chance at life. It takes two minutes to register as an organ donor, and British Columbians are encouraged to take action at and then share their decision with loved ones.

Read the news release from BC Transplant here.

Read Heather Martin’s story here.