Constables Andrew Lipkus and Sandra O’Neill have personally witnessed the miracle of organ donation.
Last year, the younger of their two sons – two-year-old Jake – received a heart transplant.
At four months old, the little boy was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently. The decreased heart function can affect the lungs, liver, and other body systems.
“That was an extremely stressful time for us, as his heart was failing rapidly,” said Lipkus, who has been with the Service for 16 years.
The family’s wish for a donor was answered and Jake received the transplant a week after his first birthday, on March 25, 2014.
“The surgery took five hours and the doctors told us that his heart was in such bad condition that he had just a few weeks left if he didn’t get that transplant,” said Lipkus. “He was basically dying.”
Because of the gift of a generous donor, the two-year-old boy is alive and thriving.
“Jake is doing very well, but his condition has to be monitored since a critical illness was traded for a chronic illness,” said his dad, who is assigned to 33 Division. “He’s doing well, but he may require another transplant down the road.”
While Toronto leads the way in world-renowned state-of-the art transplant centres and some of the most globally recognized transplant teams, it lags behind when it comes to the number of people who have consented to organ and tissue donation, Trillium Gift for Life Network chief executive officer Ronnie Gavsie said at the First-Responders Be A Donor Day event on April 30 at Nathan Phillips Square.
Just 26 per cent of Ontarians and 17 per cent of Torontonians – the lowest in the province – are registered.
“We are letting the rest of the province down,” said Gavsie. “We are letting down fellow Ontarians who are on the wait list for a life-saving transplant, as a donor from Toronto saves the life of a recipient anywhere and everywhere in Ontario. Until we improve our registration rate in Toronto, we put a cap on the performance of the entire province… The reality is we in Toronto need to step up.”
There are 1,670 Ontarians on the medically urgent wait list for a lifesaving transplant. Every three days, someone dies in the province waiting for a transplant.
“We are here to remember those brave families who have consented to donation,” added Gavsie. “And we are here to honour a group from Toronto that steps up so often to make all this possible. First-responders are the frontline and the services they provide are crucial. Without their efforts to preserve life under very difficult circumstances, the entire organ and donation machine would fail. We routinely rely on their dedicated efforts to speed organs to where they need to be in life-and-death circumstances. We are so honoured and thrilled to have the Toronto Police, Fire and Paramedic Services here today, because you exemplify leadership and responsibility. We look up to you as lifesavers, as protectors and you never say no. We hope that your leadership will pave the way for the rest of us.”
Superintendent Frank Bergen represented the Service at the First-Responders Recognition Day event.
Last year, an individual in Boston was the recipient of fallen Constable John Zivcic’s heart.
Zivcic was alone in a stealth police vehicle that was involved in a collision as he was responding to an emergency call on Nov. 30, 2013 near Bloor St. W. & Neilson Dr. He died two days later in hospital.
“I remember, vividly, the call Dr. Chris Martin (Zivcic’s brother-in-law) received in the middle of the planning of the police funeral,” said Bergen. “It was that the kidney and liver were spoken for and his heart was going to a recipient in Boston. We all broke down, but soon came to the realization that the recipient was getting the biggest, strongest and kindest heart.”
A Greater Toronto Area man received one of Zivcic's kidneys.
“He never thought he would receive one due to his rare blood type,” Bergen said. “He was on a wait list for two years and he required dialysis three times weekly.”
Burlington Member of Provincial Parliament Eleanor McMahon also spoke at the event that honoured the memory of first responders.
“Many of you have a loved one who has been given a second chance at life or who is waiting for that second chance or who are maybe like me who has lost a loved one who today lives on in someone else,” she said. “In most cases, the emergency services of our first responders likely played an important role in the process of organ and tissue donation transplant that you experienced.”
In June 2006, her husband of four years, Gregory Stobbart – who spent seven years at 23 Division before joining the Ontario Provincial Police -- was killed by a dump truck on a rural Milton road while cycling. He was preparing for a triathlon.
“On that day, I am proud to say, the first person on the scene not working at the time was a firefighter,” said McMahon.
Deputies Debbie Higgins and Gord McEachen represented the Toronto Fire and Paramedic Services respectively at the event.