In 2012, a new lease on life was given to Shilpa Raju living in Toronto when she found a suitable and a willing donor for a double lung transplant for cancer.
But not everyone are as fortunate as the Toronto epidemiologist, especially those in need of organ and tissue donations in the South Asian community where cultural and religious beliefs prevent many people from putting their names on the donation registry.
In order to encourage donors to come forward and counter their myths, the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), Toronto, has launched the Gift of Life campaign by partnering with more than 40 community groups to educate and better inform South Asians through education forums and a media blitz.
"We need to address myths and misconceptions around organ and tissue donation through education and meaningful community engagement," told Neethan Shan, CASSA's executive director.
"The need for an organ or tissue transplant can affect any one of us. No community is immune. It's important for all communities, including South Asian Canadians, to be part of the solution to stop preventable deaths on the transplant waiting list by registering consent."
Only 12.8% of south Asian Ontarians have registered their consent for organ donation, compared to 25% of the general Ontario population, according to new research by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. Around 54% of South Asian families consented to deceased organ donation when a family member died in hospital, compared to 68% for other Ontarians.
"Misunderstandings about the process of organ and tissue donation exist in every community," said Ronnie Gavsie, president and CEO of Trillium Gift of Life Network, Ontario's organ and transplant agency. "We're very happy to work with CASSA and the other work they are doing to correct misconceptions and encourage South Asian communities to register consent."
Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006 while still in university, Raju finally received a lung transplant in late 2012 after four "false alarms" for matches. "I want to thank my donor for giving me a second chance at life and to be able to continue with my Plan B. Without my donor, I would not be alive today," she said.
The campaign has designated October 5 to 11 as the South Asian Gift of Life Week "Conversations around organ and tissue donation are not something families discuss. That's why this awareness week in October is important. Remember to register your consent to donate at beadonor.ca and talk to your families about your decision."