Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking


The Gift of Life

I will never forget the desperation in the eyes of the man sitting across from me. Little did I know that this encounter would have such a major influence in my life and my work as a legislator. 

Although middle age, Geoffrey Risen looked decades older. In a feeble voice, he told me that he had come to see me for two reasons. First, he wanted to let me know about the desperate state of organ donation in our province and how that has affected his life, and he also wanted to let me know that it doesn't have to be that way.

He told me how he had poured his life into building a successful business, and how his world was 'almost perfect'. Then came the news that his kidneys were failing him, and he began his treatment journey that took him through a series of medications to increased frequencies of dialysis and ultimately onto the wait list for a kidney transplant.

After four years on the transplant wait list, and numerous unsuccessful attempts to find a compatible living donor, Geoffrey was losing hope. His kidney was failing fast and a transplant was his only hope for survival.

Geoffrey had made the decision that week to put himself on the wait list at a hospital in Miami. He was told that a kidney could be available within a matter of weeks, but that it shouldn't be more than 3 months. He would have to pay the fee of course, but as he put it, he had no choice. This was a life and death decision.

This half hour meeting led me to many thousands of hours of research into the issue of organ and tissue donation. The more I learned, the more frustrated I became that we have placed such low priority on organ donation and transplantation in our healthcare system.

How can it be.....

That under the umbrella of our multi-billion dollar healthcare system in Ontario, we have more than 1,500 people on a wait list for organ transplants on any day?

That one of those people on that list dies every three days waiting for an organ that never comes?

Why is it, that in many jurisdictions in North America, the rate of registered donors is as high as 80 percent, and in Ontario only 17 percent of our eligible population have registered as donors?

What can we do ?

That was the question I asked of the healthcare providers and administrators who are struggling to cope with Ontario's organ donor system. Although there are many issues on their list that range from front-line medical staff training to clinical hospital resources, it all starts with having a sufficient number of potential donors available. 

So how do we increase the number of registered donors ?

When people are asked if they would be willing to be an organ donor, 90 percent say yes. Why is it then, that in Ontario, only 17 percent have actually registered as donors ?

The answer is very simple.....

Ontario's system of registering organ donors is antiquated, cumbersome and inefficient. Fixing this must be made a priority by the government. And we should be doing much more to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation.

Dan Hargrave, the 26 year old local resident who was given the gift of life through a double lung transplant, is doing his part to raise that awareness. Dan and his mother Tanis Hargrave, are reaching out at every opportunity to educate the public about how to become an organ donor. Aurora resident Bruce Cuthbert, who received a life-saving liver transplant, told me that his son and nephew want to do their part to raise awareness of organ donation after witnessing what it meant for their father.

On-line Organ Registry Needed

Most people don't realize that even if you have signed a donor card, it will probably not even be considered if your intentions haven not been filed with the OHIP database. 

That's why, on numerous occasions over the past four years, I've called on the government to put in place an on-line organ donor registry system.

At long last, I was assured by the Premier this past week that "it's coming".  Sooner than later would be good.


In an effort to increase donor registration, at the suggestion of Sandra Holdsworth, a longtime Aurora resident and liver transplant recipient, I issued a friendly challenge this past week to all MPPs, to join me and my colleagues Norm Miller and John O'Toole in a four month MPP Organ Donor Registration Challenge. Here's how it works:

Our riding of Newmarket-Aurora has 109,528 OHIP cardholders. Of those, there are 22,276 registered as organ donors, representing 20 percent. While this is higher than the 17 percent provincial average, I am hoping we can double that between now and September 1st.

The Trillium Gift of Life Network will provide the total number of registered donors at the end of the challenge period, and I look forward to celebrating the results with you.

You can give the Gift of Life, by registering as an organ donor today. Please do so, by visiting

By the way, Geoffrey Risen had that kidney transplant in Miami, and within weeks was back at work. The last time I saw him, he was in excellent health, thanks to his Gift of Life.

As always, I welcome your comments. Please feel free to contact me through my website, or call me at 905 750 0019.


Please note this correction to the press release issued April 21.

You must mail completed forms to ServiceOntario not the Trillium Gift of Life Network:

Organ Donor Consent
PO BOX 48,
Kingston ON K7L 5J3

April 28, 2011