Coast to coast cyclist rides for organ donor awareness

Elisabeth Dowson
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It will take Quinn Thomas less time to cycle across Canada from coast to coast than it would for a patient to receive a kidney transplant.

It will take Quinn Thomas less time to cycle across Canada from coast to coast than it would for a patient to receive a kidney transplant, and that is why Thomas encourages everyone to discuss organ donation and then to sign their donor cards.

Thomas, who dipped his bike’s wheels in the Pacific Ocean in Tofino, BC on June 25, the day after his 21st birthday, rides from 35 to 170 kilometres and from two to eight hours a day. He estimates he will reach St. John’s NL in mid-October, or 109 days after beginning his trek of 8,730 kilometres called Organ Donation Heroes.

The Montreal native has discovered that the biggest challenges he faces are not the thousands of kilometers that lie ahead, but the constant need for drinking water, finding a safe place to pitch his tent at the end of each day, and preparing food for himself when he is exhausted.

“I’m so bad at camping, at the end of the day I’m just coping,” he admits, but quickly adds, “I can’t be whining about weather. I’m sure that one day of cycling and camping and feeding and mosquitoes and heat and wearing these silly things,” he tugs at his long-sleeved shirt and cycling gear, “I’m sure that one day of that is better than one day on dialysis.

“And while I’m riding across Canada, and people think that’s pretty heroic, well someone else is keeping his or her hopes up in dialysis, wondering when or if they will receive a transplant and going through way more than I can imagine, and for way longer too.”

Thomas wrote in his blog that he was “shocked to realize that it would probably take me less time to bike across Canada than it would for a patient to receive a kidney transplant, which, in the best-case scenario, can take around 135 days for a living kidney donation or a national average wait of 1,258 days for a deceased kidney donor.”

Today, thousands of people are waiting for organs to receive a transplant. In 2010, there were 2,233 people waiting and the numbers have risen.

“So that’s why I named this thing Organ Donation Heroes. The real heroes out there are the ones keeping their courage up, their hopes and their sense of humour up, while going through such adversity.”

Eighty-five per cent of Canadians believe organ donation is important, yet only 14 per cent have signed their organ donation cards.

Even those who think organ donation is the right thing to do may be unaware of the disconnect between their good intentions and the need to act on them to help solve this critical, national problem, Thomas feels.

“I just think there’s such a job to be done in education and raising awareness. We all have more chances of requiring an organ donation than we have of becoming a potential organ donor.”

In fact, during one’s lifetime, a person is seven times more likely to need a transplant than to become an organ donor.

Thomas said of his internship, “You get this really privileged and great access to patients - intimacy in their moments of absolute need - and in return I have no knowledge or no power to do anything that can help them in a concrete way.

“I discovered that this I can do, without a medical degree, to just cycle across Canada.”

Thomas recently spoke at the Calgary National Transplant Games, where all transplant recipients are invited to participate in friendly competition.

“It’s just a friendly, for fun thing. There’s cycling, running, fast walking. The objective is to raise awareness and to show that organ donation works.

“You see those people, double lung transplants, heart transplants, and they're alive, they talk, they run, they bike. I cycled out of Calgary with two double lung transplant recipients, and they're way faster than me.

"You see that person being alive, that beautiful person full of life, and I was thinking, they would be cold and dead - they wouldn't be doing sunshine dances and zumba - but they are because somebody signed their card. It’s as simple as that.”

Just by signing their cards, organ donors can make a profound difference in up to eight lives.

Work is underway to develop a national organ donor registry, but because each province has its own Ministry of Health, the logistics have proven challenging. Some provinces, such as BC, have developed an online registry and database. Thomas hopes that by raising awareness during his coast-to-coast journey, the resulting momentum may provide a greater impetus for creating a national database.

Thomas is traveling alone, but would love to share his journey with anyone interested in pedaling a few kilometers with him.

“Should anyone want to ride out with me when I pass their town, I would be more than happy to ride along.” He is also grateful for offers of safe camping spots. His route is mapped out on his website at http://www.organdonationheroes.ca/ and his Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/OrganDonationHeroes.

The Saskatchewan website for organ donor information can be found at http://www.health.gov.sk.ca/organ-and-tissue.

Organizations: Calgary National Transplant Games, Saskatchewan Ministry of Health

Geographic location: Canada, Pacific Ocean, Montreal Calgary Saskatchewan Tofino BC

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