Let us start at the beginning. Marit McKenzie knew a little about organ transplants – she had her best friend because of one, and it was the love for her best friend that caused her to connect with the David Foster Foundation. Marit and Paige grew up together, sharing a love of art, philosophy and Converse runners. But in Grade 12, Marit saw her friend suffering from the side effects of the increased medication needed to help with complications related to the liver transplant she had as a child. It magnified the importance of transplants to Marit and she decided to focus her senior class project at school on organ transplantation. This, from the girl who used to faint in health class at the talk of blood. She discovered the David Foster Foundation, a Victoria-based charity that provides financial support to Canadian families with children in need of life-saving organ transplants. Marit was even more quietly determined when she found out that in 2012, 346 Canadians died while waiting for donor organs and 4,529 people were on the waiting list for a transplant. “This organization really touches my heart,” Marit wrote in a school journal. “I know how important this kind of support is to families with these struggles.” Her parents remember her working tirelessly on the Japanese anime drawings that she sold at a three-day craft fair to make the $500 needed for the class project, which asked students to give back to the community in a way that fits their passions and interests.
But it wasn’t just about fulfilling a class requirement for Marit. She asked her mother Susan to sign her organ donor card. At 17, Marit was too young to give legal permission.
Then, January 28th, 2013 Marit McKenzie suddenly died. This happy and healthy honours student at the University of Calgary suffered a massive pulmonary embolism on Jan. 27, 2013. She died the next day, after suffering a total of four cardiac arrests.
Amid the shock of their youngest child dying, her parents Bruce and Susan respected their daughter’s wishes. Her heart, liver, pancreas and both kidneys were transplanted in four separate surgeries. As well, two people were given the gift of sight following successful cornea transplants, and tendons and bone tissue were preserved and will be used for reconstructive surgery at a later date. “Any person who donates their organs is selfless and are thinking beyond their own life to life afterwards. When you find a teenager like that – well, that was Marit. She really was an angel,” says her father Bruce.
Following her death, Bruce and Susan reached out to Marit’s friends and family, asking that in lieu of flowers they instead donate to the David Foster Foundation in memory of their daughter. Between February 1 and March 31, more than $22,550 was raised for the Foundation in honour of this young woman in an overwhelming response of daily individual donations.
After her shocking death, the teachers and students at Calgary Christian School wanted to do something in Marit’s honour. They organized the Marit Cup, a students versus teachers hockey game to raise money for the David Foster Foundation and create a fine arts scholarship in Marit’s name. More than 400 people of all athletic abilities took part – just as Marit would have liked. She wanted a fair world, where everyone felt included and welcome. Former Calgary Flames player Rhett Warrener and Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald laced up for the March 19, 2013 game in Calgary, and David Foster’s daughter Allison Jones dropped the puck. The school hoped to raise a few thousand dollars; they raised more than $12,000. The school plans to hold the Marit Cup annually.
Marit won’t have the chance to travel the world, create more art and become an architect like her father as she had hoped. But her parents know her compassion and spirit live on. “Marit always wanted to do good in the world. She did when she was alive, and she continues to do so now,” says her father. Marit changed the lives of countless others. She taught us all that it is not always about what we can see in front of us, but the things that we cannot foresee that matter. To live with vitality and a purpose, and to be grateful for the many blessings we have every day are far more important than we can imagine. Marit McKenzie fought for something she was passionate about, stood up for what she believed and because of her strength and integrity, her fight will continue for years after her death. She will be dearly missed by the many people who were lucky enough to know her, but perhaps those who are most grateful for her generosity, are those that never knew her at all.