‘Altruistic organ donors are phenomenal’: Victoria man donates part of his liver to a stranger

'Altruistic organ donors are phenomenal': Victoria man donates part of his liver to a stranger

Matt Terlunen likes to help others, but how he decided to make a difference this year by joining the ranks of living organ donors surprised many people — including his family.

“My wife’s reaction to the first, she was rather surprised because I said as a New Year’s resolution I’d like to save a life, I’d like to give away an organ, but she quickly got round to the idea because she knows me,” Terlunen explains.

Terlunen flew to Toronto a few months ago to donate part of his liver to a child he doesn’t know — and will never meet.

“Sometimes you just help people you don’t know and you’ll never see because it’s just the right thing to do,” the Victoria man says.

Unlike a family member donating an organ to a relative, altruistic donors like Terlunen sign up to save the life of a stranger.

“Altruistic donors are phenomenal individuals,” says Dr. Nazia Selzner, a transplant hepatologist and the medical director of the Living Donor Liver Transplantation Program at the University Health Network in Toronto. “They simply do this because they want to help a person in need and I personally am always blown away by their generosity, their kindness, their selflessness.”

Thousands of Canadians are waiting for a life-saving organ donation. But sadly, about 25 percent of people die waiting and that’s why living donors like Terlunen are so important.

“The beauty about the living donation is first of all, the liver regenerates and goes back to the full size in the person who is donating the portion of their liver. It will grow to a full size in the recipient,” Selzner explains.

But surgery isn’t without risks, and the recovery period is at least six to eight weeks.

“The risks for me are far less than someone on the waitlist who has a 25 per cent chance of dying the next year,” Terlunen says. “Between the two of us, it’s probably better I take the risk than have them take the risk.”

Terlunen had to go through an extensive medical and psychological testing process that took several months, and he says his family’s support was crucial.

“I wouldn’t have done this if my nine-year-old, Pippin, didn’t approve because it’s his dad who has to take a risk and I don’t want this to be traumatic for him or too scary,” Terlunen says.

Terlunen now hopes his story will inspire others to consider being a living donor.

“It’s nice to do nice things and it’s high time for a bit of sunshine in the world,” he says. “It’s just a kind thing to do. It’s really not that complicated.”

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