In her position with Transplant Services at the Regional Tissue Bank in Halifax, Denice Klavano has seen many donor families going through very difficult situations. She brings to her job energy, enthusiasm, grace and tact, and also something else – the experience of having been in the same situation. The experience of being a donor family.

In addition to her work, Denice is a mom, with four sons. In 2006 she went through every parent’s worst nightmare – her second oldest son Brad was killed in an accident at the Halifax Armouries,where he was a reservist with the Princess Louse Fusiliers.

“It’s funny – Brad and I had discussed organ and tissue donation shortly before his death,” Denice says. “His new health card had come in the mail, and we talked about donation. I told him to do as he wished, that just because I worked in the field of donation, that shouldn’t influence him. He shrugged and gave me that easy smile of his. “Mom”, he said, gesturing to his body, “this is only a rental.”

For Denice, as for many parents and families of donors, knowing that her son gave the gift of donation has given another dimension of meaning to her son’s all too brief life.

“The act of donation is truly a gift of comfort to grieving parents and devastated families,” Denice says. “To know that our precious child lives on through the gift of life or mobility to others. It is truly a living legacy.”

Today, Denice spends much of her time educating the public and medical professionals about the need to talk to families about organ donation, especially if their child or loved one has died without becoming a registered organ donor.

“Too often, medical professionals in this situation feel that to ask the family at this devastating time would cause them more grief or be inappropriate or inconsiderate,” Denice explains. “What I try to get across in my presentations is that the family has just heard the worst news possible, and asking about organ or tissue donation is actually a way of offering meaningful comfort. A gentle ask about organ or tissue donation gives that family an opportunity to make a meaningful decision that can help so many and give them a legacy for their loved one.”

Denice and her family are comforted by the knowledge that Brad’s eyes continue to see the world, although through a different lens. Tendons have helped an athlete regain mobility, and heart valves have saved the life of a child with a heart defect. And in giving a gift to those in need, they found it was also a gift to themselves. A gift of comfort, a gift of meaning and truly, a living legacy.

“It’s so important to talk to your friends and family about the importance of becoming a registered organ donor,” Denice says. “It’s all about sharing the gift of life – Brad enriched our lives with his love, humour and belly laughs. I believe that in the lives of his recipients, as they live and love, there is a legacy. And when they laugh, I’m sure there is an echo to Brad’s spirit – and he is smiling.”

To become a registered organ donor, contact the organ donor registration organization in your province.