Bloor West Villager
Bloor West Village resident Jennifer Monteith is grateful every hour of every day for her new heart.
Five years ago, Monteith, 60, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Her first inclination that something was wrong came one day on her way home from work. She became increasingly bloated and was having trouble breathing. When she arrived home, Monteith packed a bag for the hospital and called 911.
“I had no history of heart trouble. It was a complete surprise,” Monteith said of her diagnosis in an interview Wednesday, Aug. 1. “Doctors said it’s possible it could have been caused by a virus or my lifestyle – I’m not sure.”
Monteith has worked in the fashion and entertainment industry. It was not unusual for her to eat late and party.
“I’m not a big drinker or smoker, but I have indulged. Doctors can’t give me a definitive answer.”
Because the left side of Monteith’s heart was damaged, she needed a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), which replaces the function of a failing heart. Were it not for the device, she says, “I would have been a goner.”
As soon as she received the LVAD, Monteith was put on the transplant list, but would have four false alarms or “dress rehearsals” as she calls them, over two years before she received a new heart. Monteith had a high amount of antibodies, which made it difficult to find a match.
In January 2010, Monteith, still “battery operated,” tucked in to a post-holiday meal of pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes.
“I sat down and I gave thanks to the Lord for being alive in 2010, for my pork chops and mashed potatoes,” she said.
Not long after dinner, the dishes put away and sitting in front of the TV, Monteith heard the phone ring. At first, she ignored the call, but when she could no longer ignore the pressing feeling in her gut, Monteith retrieved the message: “Jennifer... I believe we’ve found your heart.”
Stories like Monteith’s puts a face to the 1,500 people in this province currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant. Greater awareness has led to a modest increase in registrations overall in Ontario, yet new data from the Trillium Gift For Life Network’s Gift of 8 Movement at www.BeADonor.ca indicates that out of 179 communities across the province, Toronto ranks 171st with a registration rate of 13 per cent.
In the city’s central west area, in communities like Bloor West Village, the registration rate sits at 21 per cent with just more than 77,000 registered donors. Over the past three months, more than 66,000 Ontarians registered their consent for organ and tissue donation, edging the provincial rate of registration to 22 per cent of the eligible population. However, registration rates in the Greater Toronto Area remain the lowest in the province.
“We found through our research that across Canada and the U.S. the larger populations that are more diverse have lower registration rates than the smaller communities that are close-knit, whose families have lived there for generations,” said Ronnie Gavsie, president and CEO of Trillium Gift of Life Network.
Personal donor stories like Monteith’s, said Gavsie, inspire action. Some people think that since they’ve signed their donor card that they’re registered when in fact this might not be the case. To be a part of the Ontario database, visit www.beadonor.ca
“We think we’re at an all-time high for awareness. We need people to take the steps to register,” said Gavsie.
It takes 116,000 people to move up a percentage point, she said.
“Our next step is to sustain the awareness and move people to action.”
As appreciative as recipients like Montieth are, donor families are thankful too – for softening their grief, for creating a legacy for their loved one, said Gavsie.
One donor can save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of up to 75 others through the gift of tissue.
To register to be a donor, visit www.beadonor.ca