By Marc Venema
A group of local residents who know the importance of organ donation all too well are using social media to help others.
The Facebook page, “Beth’s cause… become a donor and save a life”, was created in March for Beth Sowden Keene, a Quinte West resident who is in dire need of a liver transplant.
The page is creeping up on 1000 members. Some of those members share a similar story to Sowden Keene and use the page to offer support and to check up on others in the area.
One of those members is Joseph Belanger, a 49-year old Belleville resident who knows exactly what Sowden Keene is going through. Belanger was diagnosed with the same liver disease as hers when he was 18. He had a transplant 11 years later.
At the time of his transplant, there was no online community like there is today.
“It wasn’t around when I was first diagnosed with my disease so I was pretty much alone,” Belanger said. “The internet has played a huge role in bringing everyone together.”
Belanger said it’s a great place to have discussions on the importance of organ donation, and most importantly offer support for Beth and others in her situation.
“A lot of advice and experience is shared,” Belanger said. “It’s a community where people can lean on one another.”
Rick Harris is another member of the group.
In November of 2006, Harris went through surgery to donate a kidney to his twin brother Tim.
Something unexpected came up during the surgery and the doctors were unable to take his kidney.
“I was heartbroken.” Rick said. “I really wanted to help.”
His brother went on dialysis for a year and in 2007, received a kidney transplant.
Close to the same time, Rick became ill and also needed a transplant.
In May of 2009, Rick had a liver transplant. In the weeks to follow the transplant, he became sick with infection. Rick was able to receive a second transplant just months after his first thanks to organ donors.
He also checks up on the page frequently to see how Beth is feeling and to offer any support needed.
He said the page is raising more and more awareness for organ donation everyday. He said a lot of people know the importance of organ donation but if they don’t know someone who is in need of an organ, they don’t treat it the same way.
“It puts a face to the name,” Rick said.
Belanger also believes that if more people could see the faces of people affected, it would be a different story.
“If you were to ask people that were walking down the street and saw a burning house with someone standing in the upstairs window asking for help, how many of those people would actually run into that house to help that person and risk their lives,” Belanger said. “I bet you 90 percent of the people would say they would do it, yet here we are in the exact same situation where people are in their own burning house asking for people to help but they don’t, because they don’t really see it.”
Long-time Belleville resident Charles Benson, also logs on to the Facebook page to offer his support.
Benson battled a kidney disease for 20 years, Benson had a transplant last January.
Benson’s only son Philip was the donor, making Charles a proud parent.
“A feeling of pride.” Benson said. “It was a sacrifice for him.”
Benson said registering as an organ donor is a personal decision. He urges people to think about the bigger picture.
“Think about if it was your family,” Benson said.
Benson said his life has changed drastically since the donation.
“Physically, I have so much more energy,” he said. “My outlook on life is so much more optimistic.”
Less than 25% of eligible Ontarians are signed up as organ donors. For more information on how to become a donor, you can visit www.beadonor.ca