Kidney transplant recipient Joe Mather thanked staff of KBRH’s intensive care unit with a tin of popcorn. Mather was joined by other survivors and volunteers and staff with BC Transplant Monday during Operation Popcorn.

Organ recipients spread cheer with festive popcorn

Operation Popcorn is more than a treat for those who’ve been given a second chance on life

Joe Mather climbs the stairs of Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital with a tin of festive popcorn in hand.

Spreading cheer to those who cared for him before and during his kidney transplant is an annual climb up the stairs to the intensive care unit, a trip he could only make via elevator before.

He and an entourage of survivors, their loved ones and volunteers with BC Transplant took part in Operation Popcorn Monday, spreading cheer in the ICU, the emergency room and a stop in the renal unit, where they spent many afternoons buying time until they received “that call.”

This week marks the 24th year of BC Transplant’s Operation Popcorn, an annual tradition where transplant recipients thank the people who make it possible for them to receive a life-saving organ transplant.

The delivery was more than a treat for those who spent many years fighting for their lives at the Trail hospital.

“I had been on dialysis for a year and a half, and certainly anybody who has been on dialysis knows it’s not a great place to be,” said Mather.

“Fortunately, I was on peritoneal dialysis so I was able to do it at home and at night and that gave me a lot of freedom. Nonetheless, when I got the call to get to Vancouver it was scary but it just changed my life overnight.”

The Castlegar resident received a new kidney over four years ago, just before Karen Fontaine, who he has come to know well since.

“I couldn’t digest food at all — I was dying,” said the Trail woman. “My organs were slowly dying off, so I ended up on dialysis. I was on it for eight months, and I got told ‘this is it’ just before Christmas. Then I got the call on December 9.”

Fontaine received a new kidney and pancreas and a second chance at life. She has since devoted her time to spreading the word of organ donation in hopes of encouraging others to give the gift of life.

To date, there have been 88 deceased donor cases at hospitals across the province that have provided the gift of life to 365 recipients.

Support for organ donation continues to increase as more British Colombians register their decision on the organ donor registry that can be found at www.transplant.bc.ca. A recent partnership between BC Transplant and Service BC, allowing people to register at any of the 62 service locations, has led to a steady increase in registrations. So far this year, over 38,500 residents have registered their decision, bringing the total to about 961,300.

Trish Bosch, BC Transplant in-hospital coordinator for the Interior, said Operation Popcorn is a chance for caregivers to see their former patients living well.

Trail was only one of the teams across the province who visited 25 hospitals in B.C. and one in the Yukon.

“Somebody made that choice to give somebody else life and man you can’t even imagine the feeling that you get,” added Fontaine. “It’s a miracle.”

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