Helen Farinha shows off the scar from her heart transplant surgery. Photo by Evan Boudreau

A ‘Gift of Life’ triggers call to save others

By 
  • April 11, 2014

TORONTO - Shortly after immigrating to Canada, a then 25-year-old Tom Mirtrovski discovered his kidneys were failing.

“I was extremely scared because I did not know what would happen to me (and) who would take care of my three kids,” said Mirtrovski, 67. “It was hard on my wife too because she was scared about what would happen to me.”

At first Mirtrovski, who was put on dialysis, continued with his job at Canada Post but as time went on he grew weaker and weaker forcing him to eventually take a leave from work. After three years, Mirtrovski underwent the “life-changing” surgery.

“I was fortunate to receive a kidney from a total stranger who had the wisdom and selfless heart to donate a kidney to another stranger,” said Mirtrovski. “I am eternally grateful to my donor for the gift of life that they gave me. My donor has enabled me to live a full and rewarding life bringing up my kids and enjoying my grandkids.”

That’s why Mirtrovski, a volunteer with the Scarborough chapter of Gift of Life, has been going to parishes in Scarborough, where donor rates are below the provincial average, calling on parishioners to sign up as an organ donor.

“It is important that people register because at the time of someone’s death it is difficult to ask the family to sign to give the organ donations because they are emotional,” he said, noting that the window of opportunity to extract the organs is less than 20 minutes. “But if you sign up that part is erased and it is easier.”

Mirtrovski isn’t the only one urging Catholics to donate their organs.

“Organ donation is a peculiar form of witness to charity,” Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said in 2008. 

“As the Lord Jesus has taught us, only whoever gives his own life can save it.”

Mirtrovski said there are about 1,500 people in Ontario awaiting some form of organ transplant, about 90 people in Scarborough alone. And people on wait lists, one of whom dies every three days in Ontario, now wait more than twice as long as he did for an organ.

Three years ago Helen Farinha, who suffered from cardiomyopathy, had her enlarged heart replaced after spending eight years on a waiting list.

“I was right at the brink, they were even getting ready to give me an artificial heart because they didn’t think I would last, but 11 days before my appointment they found a match for me,” said Farinha, 62. “It was a second chance at life.”

Like Mirtrovski, Farinha is now using her spare time to promote the importance of organ donations.

“Organ donation has become my passion,” said Farinha, who joined Mirtrovski at Prince of Peace Catholic Church on March 30 to spread the word. “Every registered donor is a hero to all the people that are waiting.”

Mirtrovski said he remembers waking up in the hospital full of energy after the the transplant but he, like many who undergo the surgery, faced another hurdle — rejection.

“Within the first couple of weeks the kidney started rejecting because I had so much energy and normally the body will fight anything that doesn’t belong to you,” he said. “So I have to take medication for rejection for the rest of my life but that is nothing compared to being on dialysis.”

Not only did rejection pose a threat Mirtrovski, affording the medication also proved challenging. But yet again the grace of God was there, he said.

“When I came back from the hospital to home I was broke because I was out of work for a couple of months and I could not pay for medication,” he said.

“I received financial help from Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. For that I am eternally grateful ... (and now) I give back a little of what was given to me.”

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