British Columbia is marking a medical milestone, and one health advocates hope heartens the public’s enthusiasm for organ donation.
Marc Bains, the man who now carries lucky number 500 in his chest, was diagnosed with heart failure 10 years ago. The 32-year-old said the decade was an emotional rollercoaster — a ride he’s grateful to get off.
WATCH: Vancouver hospital works overtime to complete 3 heart transplants in 24 hours
“During the downs, there were points in my life where my family and friends thought they had lost me,” he said.
It’s now been two months and two days since Bains got a second chance at life, and he’s able to look back with a little humour.
“Prior to my transplant, a lot of people know I was labelled as the ‘wedding crasher’ because I kept having [heart] events at weddings,” he quipped.
“People stopped inviting me after a while.”
Heart transplants have been a viable medical procedure since the 1970s, but didn’t become available in B.C. until 1988.
Katie Welsh, a child at the time, was one of the first youth to have the procedure done. Thirty years later, she’s now had a second transplant at St. Paul’s Hospital.
“At the time when I had my first heart transplant, I always felt like kind of the only one because there wasn’t many around,” she told Global News.
“Now it’s like, just there’s so many stories and so many recipients — it’s just amazing.”
WATCH: Man with transplanted heart training to compete at Transplant Games
As technology and medical science have improved, so too have heart transplant survival rates which now top 85 per cent. Many transplant recipients go on to live for 30 or more years after their operation.
Health Minister Adrian Dix took the day to laud the efforts of everyone working in the province’s organ transplant field.
“It’s the brilliance and technical skills of the doctors and the nurses and the community and the health-care workers and the families and the volunteers coming together for one transplant,” he said.
“Forty-six hundred people live today, are post-transplant patients here in B.C.
“It’s a small community, it’s a small village.”
The biggest challenge remains finding donors. As of June 2018, about 1.28 million British Columbians were signed up as organ donors, just 27 per cent of the population.
If you would like to sign up as an organ donor, you can do so here.
From Bains’ perspective, the decision by his donor to sign up was the greatest gift he could have ever received.
He said he’ll never forget the day he got the call saying he would receive his new heart.
“Within four hours, my life was changed forever,” he said.
— With files from Aaron McArthur