From death comes life.
That’s the silver lining for a Twin Lakes family after last week’s tragic death of husband and father Guy Du Vent following a mountain biking accident.
“Guy was a registered organ donor and I received a call last Friday from a member of the transplant team who told me he had just saved four lives,” said his wife Katherine this week. “It was Guy’s wish (organ donation) and we had talked about it as a family before and he ended up giving four parts: two kidneys, a liver and a pancreas all went to different people.
“So when they called and said your husband just saved four lives, it just made me feel so happy, you know, ‘Way to go man, you just did it again.’”
She added it was appropriate he was able to help give others that precious gift after he was gone because that was his nature in life, putting the needs of others ahead of his own.
“He was like a big brother to those who got to know him,” said Katherine. “If you needed something and he had it to give, without question it was yours. For Guy, his body was like a backpack, and when he died he knew his spirit would no longer be confined to his six-foot frame, and long ago he made it clear for any item that others could use from that backpack to be removed, so they could carry on their lives.
“For him this is just another way of helping somebody else out, that’s all.”
Describing him as a “gentle man” who rarely got angry, she pointed to the more than 150 people who attended a special celebration of his life at the family home last Sunday and the many others who called, as proof of just how much he was loved.
“His spirit has invaded all of them and he’s going to be that big brother memory in their heads forever,” said Katherine. “You don’t forget big brothers. He never ruffled anybody’s feathers and I was very lucky for so many years.”
The Du Vents had been together since 1979 and have two daughters, Anna, 31, and Nicole, 30.
According to his wife, Guy, 60, was an avid outdoorsman who loved the wilderness and knew the maze of trails he regularly hiked and biked like the back of his hand. He also enjoyed skiing, and just the day before his accident had been out panning for gold with a longtime friend.
Since the donation of Guy’s organs, Katherine has become an even bigger advocate for the process.
“Because even at 60 years old your parts are still good enough because they’re (transplant team) happy if they just get one. This is something that isn’t pushed enough. It should be an automatic for people but it isn’t.
“For me, it was just such an emotional high and people have to realize that your loved one has just taken off like a rocket.”
As difficult as the last 10 days have been for her, Katherine is quick to credit the efforts of all those who did their best during their time of need.
That included his best friends who rode the trails of the Naramata Bench on that hot Monday afternoon searching for him to Penticton Search and Rescue members who arranged to have him airlifted from the scene.
As well, there was the medical staff at both Penticton Regional and Kelowna General hospitals who did their best to save him.
“Our wishes and our needs were as primary as Guy’s needs and the feedback was clear. They didn’t say, ‘Oh now little lady, just be calm.’ We were kept totally aware at all times,” said Katherine.
For now she will keep his ashes in a jewelry box near her bedside until the time they are taken to a mountain top and released to wherever the winds take them.
Thinking back about their time together as a couple, Katherine remembers one of her husband’s favourite quotes.
“At the end of the day, he would have enthusiasm for one last push to the end.”
Giving the gift of life
Few people like to think about death, let alone talk about it, but Dr. Greg Grant, the executive director of B.C. Transplant, feels it is a conversation every family should have.
Working in the intensive care unit of St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver, the end-of-life issue is something he deals with on an almost a daily basis.
“One of the reasons I got into B.C. Transplant is because I’m one of the docs that has to go and tell a family that bad news,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for about 18 years now and when you approach a family about end of life, it’s a really tough time and it’s kind of hard to do.
“But like the family (Du Vent) you mentioned, because they had that conversation, they knew what their loved one wanted.”
He added without some clear direction there is added strain, not only on the family but attending physicians as well. So much so, in some cases doctors might not ask the question.
“I think they (doctors) feel they will be perceived badly or that there is a conflict of interest,” he said. “It can be difficult when you have a family in front of you and they need to know that the doctor is doing the very, very best for their family member, but at the same time there comes a point when we can be certain they (patient) will not recover.”
The doctor stressed the criteria for brain death is very strict, but even so, the family is not sure in which case organ donation is not an option.
“It is difficult. I’ve had people say no, and that’s an OK answer, but I’ve never had anybody be offended by it, and sometimes I think it just means that we don’t ask enough,” he said. “But it’s also one of those things that has always amazed me is how some families can dig down inside their hearts at the worst time of their life and suddenly this is important for them.”
He believes this group sees organ donation as a way to spare others the anguish they are experiencing.
“The hard part is we lose about 12 to 15 patients a year who die while waiting for an organ donation,” said Dr. Grant.
Although a 2009 survey showed 85 per cent of people in B.C. agreed with the idea of organ donation, just 18.5 per cent (847,442 people) are currently registered.
So far this year in B.C. there have been 219 transplants and 449 people remain on the waiting list.
In Penticton, 26 per cent of the population, about 12,000 people, have signed up as donors.
The doctor stresses those wishing to donate must register — it is not automatic or a box that can be checked off on their driver’s licence (as it was in the past).
Anyone wanting to state their preference — yes or no — can do it online at www.transplant.bc.ca.