Heart-transplant recipient Dylan Stork is doubly thankful.
Stork, 22, had his first heart-transplant when he was six weeks old. When his body rejected that heart, he received another heart at age 13.
“It’s always in the back of my mind. Everyday I think about the donor families. I think about what they lost so I could gain,” said Stork, who grew up in Blackfalds.
This week Alberta Health Services celebrated the 25th anniversary of heart and lung transplantation in Alberta, as well as National Organ and Tissue Done Awareness Week, April 17 to 23.
“A lot of people don’t talk about (organ donation). People just aren’t aware they have to sign their Alberta Health Care card and you have to talk to your loved ones about it. Your next of kin have the final say,” said Stork who now lives in Calgary where he works as a bartender.
Stork was born with a rare congenital heart defect so the left side of his heart was severely underdeveloped. Pediatric heart transplants were not yet performed in Alberta so he received his first life-saving transplant in California. When that heart began to fail, he waited just over a year for a new heart.
His mother Tracy Blanchard said they received the call that they were waiting for on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2002. Surgery was performed the next day at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.
“On that day we celebrate. We also stop and remember there’s another family somewhere that’s celebrating a very different type of remembrance,” said Blanchard who moved a year ago to Calgary to live closer to her children.
When Dylan was first born and there was no option for a transplant in Alberta, her family discussed the possibility of donating Dylan’s organs so they have a small understanding of what a family goes through, she said.
On Tuesday evening, her family spoke to a group of donor families on behalf of recipient families.
“We were able to tell them thank you. We were blessed to be able to do it.”
The first pediatric heart transplant in Alberta was performed at Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital in 1996.