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Popcorn event at Peace Arch Hospital thanks organ donation, transplant staff

‘I live a life as normal as everybody else and I’m very thankful’
Organ donor recipients Earl Howell (liver), left, Vicki Ellestad (kidney) and Gillian Le Tisser (kidney recipient), with red box and bow, pose with hospital staff and Fraser Health representatives at Peace Arch Hospital Thursday (Dec. 7) for Operation Popcorn. Tricia Weel photo)

There was a festive feel in the air at Peace Arch Hospital Thursday (Dec. 7), when organ transplant recipients bearing big, red boxes wrapped with bows met with those who work tirelessly to save lives – including their own.

The boxes, filled with popcorn and other goodies, was part of BC Transplant’s Operation Popcorn, a 32-year program that provides the opportunity for people who have been directly impacted by organ donation to personally thank staff in intensive care units, emergency departments and operating rooms across the province.

“We’re alive because of the program (BC Transplant),” said kidney recipient Vicki Ellestad, who received her kidney from a live donor more than 10 years ago, after a virus attacked her kidneys.

“It means so much,” she said, tears welling in her eyes, remembering how she’d been on dialysis and prepared for the worst, as there weren’t any matches for her blood type – until her ex-brother-in-law contacted her and offered to donate one of his kidneys to her.

“I got to take my granddaughter to Disneyland. Today, I’m picking her up from university. Who would’ve thought I’d be doing this? That’s what it means to have a donation,” Ellestad said.

READ ALSO: Transplant recipients visit Surrey hospital to deliver Christmas treats

The three transplant recipients – Ellestad, Earl Howell (liver), and Gillian LeTisser (kidney) – visited several wards of Peace Arch Hospital to show their gratitude to hundreds of hospital staff who work tirelessly to support organ donation year-round.

Many of the staff “never get to see the results” of their life-saving work, explained BC Transplant hospital donation co-ordinator Sandra Bazley.

“They never get to see the healthy reality… this is a way they can,” she said.

Meeting with on- and off-duty hospital staff, the organ recipients shared their stories and their thanks.

“My gratitude is overwhelming for the work that you do,” LeTisser told staff gathered in a break room.

Howell shared her gratitude – and his relief at not being jaundiced anymore.

“I was lemon yellow for many, many years,” he said, before he underwent a liver transplant.

“I’ve been able to see my kids grow up and get married, and now I have five grandkids,” he said.

“I live a life as normal as everybody else and I’m very thankful.”

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’m a lifelong writer, and worked as a journalist in community newspapers for more than a decade, from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey, from 2001-2012
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