Best Christmas gift ever

In 1988, Tony Beeftink got the Christmas gift of his life. It was, literally, the gift of life in the form of a heart transplant.

Seasonal warning:  Nurse Kelly Pettus and heart transplant recipient Tony Beeftink share a laugh and some popcorn

Seasonal warning: Nurse Kelly Pettus and heart transplant recipient Tony Beeftink share a laugh and some popcorn

In 1988, Tony Beeftink got the Christmas gift of his life.

It was, literally, the gift of life in the form of a heart transplant.

“The doctor came in and said ‘what do you want for Christmas?’” says Beeftink. “I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding!”

But the doctor wasn’t kidding and very early in the morning of Boxing Day, Beeftink received his brand new ticker that has kept the beat for 24 years.

Acquisition of the heart was organized by  Pacific Organ Retrieval for Transplantation (PORT) after Beeftink had been on chemical life support for four months.

“I suppose at that time I had the right blood type  and the biggest need,” he says.

Unlike the U.S. where transplant patients are made aware of their donors, Beeftink says information is kept strictly private  in Canada.

Beeftink was back in the hospital last Wednesday – not as a patient, but to say thanks to Shuswap Lake General Hospital doctors and nurses on behalf of Operation Popcorn.

Every December, BC Transplant arranges for transplant recipients and living donors to visit intensive care units, emergency and operating rooms in the province, delivering decorative tins of popcorn to staff for the critical role they play in the transplant process.

Beeftink says not only do the nurses and doctors provide great care, they have the tough job of identifying if a dying patient might make a good donor, and talking to a grieving family about the possibility of their loved one becoming a donor after death.

So far this year, staff in acute-care facilities have helped save 300 lives through the transplant process.

But more than 400 British Columbians are currently waiting for a transplant.

“A lot of people are waiting and a lot of people are dying,” says Beeftink, urging people to enroll in the transplant program. “It might do a family some good to know something good comes out of a terrible tragedy.”

While most British Columbians, a reported 85 per cent, support the concept of organ donation, only 18 per cent have registered as organ donors. Visit the BC Transplant Society website at www.transplant.bc.ca and take their message to heart says Beeftink: “Don’t take your organs to heaven – heaven knows we need them here.”

And it’s not just hearts that are needed – lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreases and retinas can give someone a new lease on life.

Beeftink continues to give thanks and does so by counselling other patients when required.