The Marchands, Joe, Dawn and six-year-old twins Juno, left, and Hayden, at Layla’s cancer awareness marker. Joe donated a kidney to a four-year-old boy in honour of his stepdaughter Layla who died at age 12 from a rare form of cancer. Photo courtesy Marchand family

Organ donation honours late daughter

  • February 12, 2022

After enduring the pain of losing a child to cancer, Joe Marchand was honoured to give the gift of life to another family.

In February 2021, Marchand and his wife Dawn, learned from a post on Facebook that a student at their six-year-old twins’ old daycare, four-year-old Carson Hillier, was in need of a kidney transplant. Though they didn’t know Carson personally, as soon as the couple heard about the situation, without hesitation, they knew they wanted to help.

With Marchand being the right blood type, he underwent some tests and it was confirmed that he was a match. The surgery took place on Jan. 21 and both donor and recipient are recovering well.

“Going through (losing a child) definitely changes your perspective as a parent and as a human being,” said Marchand, a registered organ donor. “Why should I have to wait until I pass away for somebody to get my organs?”

On Oct. 7, 2019, the Windsor, Ont., couple lost Dawn’s 12-year-old daughter Layla, Marchand’s stepdaughter, to Rabdomiosarcoma, a rare type of cancer.

“The biggest motivation when my stepdaughter passed away was for myself and how do I keep her legacy going for me. From a biological standpoint she’s not mine but her and I really had a tight bond,” said Marchand. “She wanted the best for everybody, and she wanted the best for the world. She was my big motivating factor in all of this. I think by me doing this it honours her memory and her legacy.”

It was a full year from the time the family received Layla’s cancer diagnosis to when they lost her. The grief, Dawn says, has been unbearable at times but in the darkness and light of mourning she tries to honour her daughter’s life by focusing on the light. Knowing that a little boy is recovering well, and that Layla’s light continues to shine through their family’s act of kindness, brings her a lot of joy.

The family has gone beyond just Marchand donating a kidney. They’re also raising awareness among their twins’ classmates. The twins are in the first grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. Carson’s favourite colour is green which happens to be the colour associated with organ donation awareness and his family members wore green to show support on the day of the surgery.

When Dawn was made aware, she messaged their twins’ teacher, Sam Macri, seeking a similar show of support. Marci was immediately onboard and approached principal Anna Mancini who made it a school-wide initiative. On Jan. 21, more than 90 per cent of the student body showed up in green.

“We’re a Catholic community, so we always try to support a worthy cause and we believe this is one,” said Mancini. “We’re all a family here at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I’m sure those kids probably had some worry or concern knowing that their father was going into surgery. We just wanted to put them at ease so the whole school got into it .… It was just a good opportunity to bring awareness to the cause of organ donation.”

As a Catholic school, Mancini said it’s important to not only raise awareness but to instil in the students the importance of caring for others. The school has been involved with several initiatives, reaching out to the marginalized groups and holding fundraisers and awareness days for juvenile diabetes, juvenile arthritis and other medical challenges that have impacted students.

This month Our Lady of Mount Carmel will host a fundraiser in support of kidney health.

Dawn hopes by raising awareness about organ donation to students at a young age it will carry on later in life.

“When you see other people go through things and promote it in a positive way it takes away the fear,” said Dawn, whose father is a Catholic deacon. “I think fear is mostly what holds people back from doing things. The more you can advocate at any age, the more chance you have of somebody feeling confident and secure in stepping forward and saying, ‘Hey I want to try to do this for someone else.’ ”

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