Believe me, it’s worth it: Karen Wood shares her story about organ donation to inspire others after husbands’ sudden death

Photo of Karen Wood (left), her husband, Lornie (centre) and granddaughter Liliana (Lily) (right)
Photo of Karen Wood (left), her husband, Lornie (centre) and granddaughter Liliana (Lily) (right)

Hurricane Fiona ripped through Atlantic Canada on September 24, 2022. For many people, it was a storm they will never forget. Karen Wood and her husband, “Lornie” Wood, were on their eleventh day without power in their home in Tarantum, PEI when the unimaginable happened. Lornie, aged 70, suffered a brain bleed at home and unfortunately never recovered.

Surrounded by his wife and three adult children, he succumbed to his condition four days later at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII. Though it was difficult to find a bright light during a very dark time, Lornie went on to be an organ and tissue donor and was able to save the lives of at least three individuals and improve the life of one other person. A reassurance Karen holds onto tightly these past seven months.

“Lornie went outside to turn on our generator,” said Karen. “He came in a few minutes later complaining of a severe headache. When the paramedics came to take him to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, I had no idea that would be the last time I would see him alert and talking.”

Upon arriving at the hospital, Karen was informed that a computerized tomography scan (CT) confirmed that her husband had suffered a brain bleed in the back of his head and he had no neurological function. A physician then shared with Karen that one of the medical staff in the emergency department noticed that Lornie was a registered donor. Knowing exactly what his wishes were, she asked about next steps.

“He was a helper,” said Karen. “That’s just who he was. The sweetest, kindest man. This is what he would have wanted. I was grateful in that moment that the staff reminded me of that. They handled it with such compassion.”

Karen and her family were told Lornie would need to be transferred to the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, he would be officially declared “brain dead” by two physicians and cared for while a series of tests would be completed to confirm which organs would be eligible for donation. Karen admits it wasn’t easy leaving PEI, knowing what awaited her and her family on the other side, but shares she was overwhelmed with the level of care and thoughtfulness she encountered along the way.

“It was a sad journey,” said Karen. “But with each step, we felt deep love and support from each person we met.”

“When we arrived in Halifax, the medical staff encouraged us to put pictures up around Lornie’s bed, to play him music and talk to him. I walked in one day and they were washing him up, brushing his teeth. It just made me feel, even though we knew he was going on to be a donor, he was still with us, and they still cared. I thought that was so considerate and lovely.”

Having gone through this experience, Karen says there are several common misconceptions she would like to clarify in hopes of bringing positive attention to organ and tissue donation. First, if you or your loved one is a donor and living in PEI, you can donate. Legacy of Life is Nova Scotia's Organ and Tissue Donation Program and it offers clinical services relating to deceased donation in PEI.

“I know it may seem unsettling or even scary to think about leaving home and going through the process in an unfamiliar place,” said Karen. “But there are amazing people along the way who will support you and care for you and your loved one. They make the hard times manageable. Believe me, it’s worth it.”

Second, Karen says she wants people to know that every effort is made to save a life. Medical staff aren’t in a rush to determine if a patient is a donor and in fact conduct a series of thorough tests to ensure eligibility.

“They did everything they could to save my husband,” said Karen. “We were thankful for the time and care they took to determine if Lornie could donate. Don’t fear it. The level of care they provided ensured he was able to go on and donate both his kidneys, his liver and two corneas. They helped us grant him his last wish.”

Lastly, Karen says it’s never too late to have conversations with family members or friends about their decision to donate. It wasn’t until after this experience that she found out all three of their children are also registered donors.

“We didn’t talk about it enough when the kids were young,” said Karen. “Don’t wait for something to happen to have those conversations. My husband had the ability to see the beauty in life. Now someone else will see it in the same way. I’m very grateful for that.”