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Transplant and organ donation initiative educates 30,000 students

Toronto, December 21, 2018

By Ana Gajic

Dr. Ori Rotstein (left) and Dr. Galit Alter
Photo from

Each year, Ontario performs over 1,000 life-saving solid organ transplants - the highest of any province or territory in Canada. However, the rates of organ donation in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are among the lowest in the world.

In an effort to help raise awareness of the life-saving impact of organ donation, a group of transplant physicians, surgeons, nurses and allied health professionals from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), the University Health Network (UHN) and St. Michael's Hospital have been volunteering to visit high schools in the GTA to talk directly to students about organ transplant.

The High School Outreach Initiative (HSOI) was launched in 2011 by staff members at SickKids. Dr. Vicky Ng, Staff Gastroenterologist and medical director of the Liver Transplant Program and Stephanie So, physiotherapist at SickKids, joined forces with Andrea Norgate, pancreas transplant coordinator at UHN and Galo Meliton, post-transplant coordinator at St. Michael’s. Their plan was to initiate classroom presentations delivered by transplant health-care professionals along with a transplant recipient and a member from Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN).

“Research shows that in-school classroom teaching is a very feasible way to teach teens from multiple cultures and backgrounds about organ donation and transplantation,” says Dr. Ng, who is also a professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto.

“Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders and our observations are that Toronto students do not have much prior knowledge about organ donation. Our speakers are reporting amazing engagement, inquisitive questions, and vibrant dialogue after each presentation. Students take home materials that they can share with their family to continue the conversation and share what they’ve learned.”

On December 19, 2018, Dr. Joseph Kim, medical director of the Kidney Program at UHN’s Transplant Program, presented to a group of students at St. Mother Teresa Catholic Academy in Scarborough. This presentation marked a total of 30,000 students educated since the launch of the initiative in 2011.

Michelle Paolini, teacher at St. Mother Teresa Catholic Academy, submitted the application for staff from HSOI to come to present. She feels this education is very important.

“Giving another person the gift of life is often times very comforting when grieving the loss of a loved one,” Paolini said. “Unfortunately, teenagers are beginning to experience such losses so there is no better time for considering organ donation and the necessary conversations that go along with it.”

Over the last seven years, the team has done 421 presentations. Dozens of staff members from SickKids, UHN, St. Michael’s and TGLN have volunteered their time to do these presentations. At each presentation, a transplant recipient or a donor family member shares their story. These personal life-changing journeys help with the education process to make it more real for the high school students. Thanks to funding from TGLN, Ashley’s Angels Fund and The Organ Project, this program has been able to thrive and reach many young people.

“This collaborative effort between three hospitals to reach high school youth is an important step in increasing awareness about how organ donation transforms lives,” said Dr. Atul Humar, medical director of the UHN Transplant Program and director of the Toronto Transplant Institute. “These presentations to eager high school students, who talk about it with their families and friends, ensure that many more people are aware of the difference they can make in helping save lives through organ donation. We see the vital impact of both deceased and living donors every day as we care for those who need and receive a transplant.”

The presentations begin with covering the basics of transplants and organ donation. The team then works to bust some common myths about transplants and organ donation.

For example, a common myth is that a signed donor card is all you need to become a donor. The truth is that donor cards are no longer in use. Ontarians need to register online or in person at any ServiceOntario location to ensure that the decision to donate is recorded.

Then the students hear from a transplant recipient or family member of a transplant recipient. At the landmark presentation at St. Mother Teresa Catholic Academy, Ed Van Gennip, 56, shared his story about organ donation.

“I’m very thankful that my life was saved by a generous donor and the excellent expertise in our healthcare system,” said Van Gennip, who received two liver transplants at UHN’s Toronto General Hospital. “I want everyone to know that donating organs makes a huge difference to people like me. A recipient can be healthy and active and lead a good life. I am proof of that.”

The team looks forward to continuing their education program.

“We are very proud of the collaboration between our three hospitals to reach young communities,” says Dr. Jeff Zaltzman, a transplant nephrologist at the Renal Transplant Program at St. Michael’s. “The easiest way for us to increase the amount of registered organ donors is to raise awareness of the power of organ donation. Through this program, we are reaching a new generation of Ontarians who can change lives. We’re excited about this milestone and look forward to many more to come.”

Looking to have a health-care professional present at your school? Click here to book a presentation. Presentations can be booked throughout the school year from September to June. For any inquiries, please contact Anna Cocco, Education Coordinator, UHN Transplant Program at 416-340-4800 ext. 6315.

Are you registered to be a donor? You can learn more and register at

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit

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