Madam Chair, I thank the House for the opportunity today to talk about the critical importance of organ donation. I would like to talk about the role research plays in improving the lives of those Canadians who are receiving donations of lifesaving organs.
Our government recognizes the vital role that organ transplantation has played in improving the health of Canadians. We also believe in supporting research in order to help innovate in product development.
Canadians have been at the forefront of the worldwide organ transplant revolution. We have played major roles in every aspect of organ transplants, from surgical techniques to advanced research.
In February the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, or CIHR, hosted an important workshop that provided an opportunity for 60 members of the transplant community to gather and discuss key research challenges and opportunities. Ongoing research in this area is critical as organ donation will continue to be a critical part of the health system.
I would like to tell members about innovative and groundbreaking research initiatives that are being funded by our government.
Over the past four years our government, through CIHR, has committed close to $23 million to research kidney disease. For example, CIHR has invested $3.3 million in examining whether specific therapy aimed at reducing viral damage to the transplanted kidney would have a better outcome than standard therapy.
CIHR provided funding of over $825,000 to study the long-term medical and psychological risks of donating a kidney. This study will improve the ability to select the most suitable donors and will improve and enhance the information that is provided to Canadians interested in becoming donors.
Kidney disease takes a daily toll on Canadians and on their families. This disease can also be a cost burden on our health care system.
The Canadian Institute of Health Information, or CIHI, estimates the cost of dialysis treatment per patient, per treatment to be $60,000. Over a five year period, the cost savings of a kidney transplant is approximately $250,000 per patient. Another way to look at this would be to consider that the more than 15,000 Canadians living with transplanted kidneys means that $800 million can be invested in other areas of the health system.
Therefore, ensuring that there is a supply of organs for transplantation is significant, not only for the transplant recipients and their families but also for our health care system.
Do members know that kidneys are the organs in highest demand and are also the most commonly transplanted organs? Three-quarters of the nearly 4,000 Canadians on the waiting list for an organ donation are waiting for a kidney. The fastest growing group of organ recipients is those aged 60 and older.
Our youngest citizens have also benefited from the expertise developed by Canadian surgeons in performing organ transplants in children and young adults. In 2010, 49 young Canadians received a kidney transplant. Today, transplantation has changed this reality and offers a new lease on life to a growing number of Canadians, both young and old.
Unfortunately, there is far more demand for organ transplantation than there are available organs. In 2010 more than 4,000 Canadians were on waiting lists for organ transplants, including those in Newfoundland and Labrador.
One of those Labradorians is Cassandra Rich, my niece from my home community of Sheshatshiu, whose story I would like to share with the House.
Cassandra is 21 years old and was born with kidney disease. Diagnosed at the age of three, she was referred out of province and when she was nine to a specialist in Nova Scotia. She typically spent approximately five months out of each year in a hospital in Halifax until she reached end-stage renal failure, requiring dialysis.
Cassandra is worried most about the impact this has had on her mother, Christine, a single parent. With English as a second language and the isolation of out-of-province care, it has been difficult for Christine to be away from her reserve and her family for long stretches of time due to Cassandra's illness.
In addition to Cassandra's health problems, she also has a severe peanut allergy, making her medical issues that much more difficult and her mother's dedication to Cassandra's well-being that much more important.
Although her mother reassures her that there is nowhere else she would rather be, Cassandra carries with her a sense of guilt at the disruption her illness has caused in her mother's life. Cassandra travels 100 kilometres round trip, from our community to the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay to have four-hour-long dialysis sessions three times a week.
When asked how organ failure has affected her life, she talks about how she can no longer take holidays, go in the bush with her family, or participate in activities like swimming due to the port in her chest. She is careful about what she eats and drinks and feels that people treat her differently and she cannot take part in social activities that other young adults her age enjoy.
Despite her challenges, Cassandra has kept up with her workload in school and graduated at the top of her class. She wants to be a pharmacist. Last year, she completed the aboriginal transition program offered by the university. She was recognized by the college for her courage and commitment to her education and positive attitude. She occupies herself by painting and working as a part-time secretary at the Sheshatshiu Innu School.
Cassandra has been on the organ transplant list for the past year. Ongoing dialysis treatment and becoming a successful candidate for organ transplant has brought with it a new set of medical challenges. The port in her chest, where the dialysis line is connected, must be changed every three months in the city of St. John's, Newfoundland, which is a two-hour flight from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. In addition to the quarterly journey to prepare for an eventual organ transplant, she undergoes medical testing, scans and blood work every two months.
Like all others on the list for organ transplant, Cassandra has no idea when a kidney might become available. She remains hopeful and has a bag packed and ready should she ever receive a call.
Cassandra's story is yet another example of how important the issue of organ donation is to all of us.
One area recognized as having potential for increasing the supply of lifesaving organs is the practice of living donations.
Living donations take place when a living person donates an organ or, in some cases, a part of an organ, for transplant in another person. Oftentimes, these donations occur among family members or may involve close family friends. Sometimes, however, Canadians choose to donate an organ, or part of an organ, anonymously or as a paired exchange, a selfless act that deserves our collective praise.
Organ transplantation has given hope to thousands of Canadians and their families. The advances that have been made in the field over the past decades are significant. We can certainly applaud the role that Canadian research has played, and will continue to play, in organ transplantation to see the best outcomes for all Canadians.
It is now with hope that I encourage Canadians to seriously consider becoming an organ donor and that, more important, they make their wishes known to their families and loved ones.