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Top 40 gives way for organ donation advocate

Shelley Hunt, is a co-founder of Because I Can, a national organization promoting the importance and need for organ donations. - Mark Brett/Western News
Shelley Hunt, is a co-founder of Because I Can, a national organization promoting the importance and need for organ donations.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

After spending nearly two years convincing people to sign up to become organ donors, Shelley Hunt is looking forward to finally making an example of herself.

The 30-year-old Okanagan Falls woman is one of the co-founders of the Because I Can project and is the latest inductee into the Top 40 under 40.

Hunt grew up in Trail and then attended Vanguard College in Edmonton, where she trained as a youth worker. She and her husband, Gaetan, then moved to the Okanagan about five years ago.

She helped organize some community events, such as the Wishmakers Walk and annual Easter egg hunt at LocoLanding, but wanted to take on something bigger.

“I was really looking for something that was a lot more direct. I didn’t want to just hand over a cheque to somebody; I wanted to be involved in something,” said Hunt, a mother of two.

In March 2012 she spotted a pamphlet about organ donation in her junk mail and decided to research the subject.

When she learned of the huge need that exists for organ donors, she knew she’d just heard her calling.

“I never look through my junk mail and so it was exactly the right time in my life,” said Hunt.

Because I Can began when she posted on Facebook a video she made with her son about the need for organ donors.

Co-founder Jess Royan, a casual acquaintance at the time, got in touch with her and “literally within 24 hours we decided we were going to start a national campaign,” Hunt said.

A third co-founder, Levi Sampson, joined a little later.

Since the project’s website launched in May 2012 to share stories about organ donors and recipients, the group has set its sights on two goals: increase the number of registered organ donors in Canada and press for legislative changes so people have to opt out of becoming an organ donor, rather than opt in as they do now.

An Ipsos Reid poll conducted in 2010 found 95 per cent of Canadians approve of organ donation, yet the percentage who actually register to donate is much lower.

In this province, just 19 per cent of residents were on the registry as of December, according to the BC Transplant Society.

Hunt said the survey shows the organ donor registry system is out of synch with public sentiment, and switching to an opt-out model will improve it.

“We’re spending million of dollars trying to get people to opt in and they’re just not doing it, yet they support it,” she said. “We need a system that better reflects that.”

Canada also needs more groups like Hunt’s, according to one organ transplant recipient.

“Let’s just say it’s a fact that if 100 per cent of people were registered organ donors, there would be no waiting list,” said Penticton resident Annick Lim.

“This is how incredibly impactful it is.”

Lim, 38, received a kidney from her father nearly 15 years ago and has since become involved in a variety of causes that promote organ donation.

She described Hunt, her friend, as “incredibly passionate, incredibly loyal to her cause,” and “so generous, so giving.”

Lim added that with Hunt having committed to making an organ donation she has now “graduated to a whole other level.”

Hunt said she’s been accepted into an organ donation chain that has her attached to a five-year-old boy in Langley.

The two are not a medical match, but when one of Hunt’s kidneys goes to an as-yet unknown recipient, it will trigger someone else’s donation to the boy.

“The chains can actually be quite long and complex, but it usually consists of six pairings,” she explained, adding the transplants will likely take place sometime this spring.

In the meantime, Hunt is more inspired than ever to continue her work and continue sharing stories of organ donors and recipients.

“Canadians are empathetic people, we’re compassionate people, but numbers don’t always speak to us. We need to hear about what’s going on,” she said.

“I feel like as soon as people hear those things they will become donors.

“That just fuels the passion right there. Who else is going to do it?”

Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by the Prospera Credit Union in partnership with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and JCI Penticton, with support from White Kennedy LLP Chartered Accountants.

Nominations should be sent to manager@penticton.org with the subject line ‘Top 40 Nomination.’ Please include nominees contact info and a brief reason for nomination.

 

 

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