Since 2000, the physician and President of the Canadian Transplant Association has exercised his athletic prowess in the Canadian Transplant Games, a friendly competition for transplant recipients featuring sports like badminton, bowling, cycling, golf, tennis, track and field, triathlon and table tennis. The games will be held in Toronto in 2016.

“I’ve won more than 20 medals in Canada,” he says adding that his main sports are squash, cycling, running and golf. “I also won a silver medal for golf in Australia during the World Transplant Games.”

Adversity through athleticism

The issues surrounding organ and tissue donation are particularly close to Goldstein. He received a liver transplant in May 1998 after 18 years of living with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, a chronic liver disease causing inflammation and blockage in the bile ducts.

He says the games offer him and hundreds of other Canadians who compete a chance to tell their stories.

“(Attendees) learn about the individuals competing, they learn about organ donations – how those issues are really important and how they save lives,” says Goldstein.

A growing need

James Breckenridge, President and CEO of the Canadian Transplant Society – a charity devoted to increasing awareness and bolstering the number of registered donors – agrees, adding that events like this highlight the growing needs for organ and tissue donations in Canada.

“People are still somewhat in the dark as to what a transplant is about and this showcases the ability of the person after they’ve recovered from an organ transplant.”

“People are still somewhat in the dark as to what a transplant is about and this showcases the ability of the person after they’ve recovered from an organ transplant,” he says.

The cost of not donating

Struggling with an aging population and growing health challenges like diabetes; the waiting list continues to grow. According to the federal government, at any given moment over 4,500 Canadians are waiting for organ transplants and some won’t make it to the transplant phase. In 2012, 256 people on those waitlists died  before receiving transplants.

Breckenridge calls the tragic loss of life needless, a byproduct of misinformation and lack of education surrounding the process. Less than 25 percent of Canadians have pledged to donate their organs.

“There’s 3,000-odd people waiting for sight – over 3,000 Canadians could see tomorrow if they had cornea transplants,” says  Breckenridge. “We’ve drafted all the population who is willing to just sign up, so now we’re onto the second tier of people, the one’s with questions – they’re not going to feel comfortable about being an donor until we answer
their questions.”

Setting the record straight

Both Goldstein and Breckenridge come across a constant stream of misinformation. “There’s a lot of misconceptions – that doctors won’t work hard to save your life if you’ve signed your donor card or registered your consent to be a donor, which is absolutely not true,” says Goldstein. He points out that most religions are for organ donation, another concern he often comes across.

Breckenridge also gets people worrying whether or not pre-existing health concerns makes them eligible to donate. “Please register to be an organ donor and allow the transplant team to decide at the time if you’re suitable to be a donor,” he says. And if you do have questions, both the CTS and CTA websites have more in-depth information.

Goldstein echoes Breckenridge, urging Canadians to register to donate tissues and organs and show their support in Toronto during the Canadian Transplant Games. “The transplant list never grows shorter,” he says.