Record number of transplants give Albertans new hope through Southern Alberta Program

April 25, 2022

105 transplants performed in 2021 through southern Alberta program

CALGARY — The Southern Alberta Transplant Program performed a record number of organ transplants last year, despite challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to statistics released today by Alberta Health Services (AHS).

In southern Alberta, 105 organs (103 kidney, two pancreas) were transplanted in 2021 from 43 deceased donors and 25 living donors, exceeding the previous record of 101 set in 2017. There were 97 transplants completed in 2020 and 80 in 2019. The Southern Alberta Transplant Program focuses on kidney and pancreas transplants.

“During every wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, AHS continues to provide organ and tissue donation and transplant services, with priority given to urgent cases,” says Dr. Andreas Kramer, Medical Director for the Southern Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Program.

Provincially, AHS transplant teams performed 404 organ and tissue transplants last year, compared to 395 transplants in 2020 and 433 in 2019. There were 312 people on the organ donation waitlist last year; 50 of whom died before a suitable organ became available.

The program does not track specific cause of death by disease, so it is unknown to what degree COVID-19 and opioid deaths, or other factors, might contribute to an increased number of deceased organ donors.

Dr. Kramer encourages Albertans to consider organ donation and to discuss it with their loved ones.

“Many Albertans have expressed their intent to donate their organs and tissues at the end of their life, so signing the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry is a good first step,” he says. “But it is also very important to talk to your family to ensure they are aware of your desire to donate, and can honour your wish on your behalf.” 

While most organ and tissue donations are from deceased donors, Alberta’s living donor programs also help save lives and improve the quality of life for hundreds of Albertans.

Nancy Langlois, 54, made the decision to anonymously donate her kidney after seeing billboards from Albertans in need. She says as soon as she saw a plea from someone with her blood type, she answered the call.

“I’ve always been very healthy and know that living with one kidney is perfectly fine, so I thought, ‘if I can do this for somebody, then I will,’” Langlois says. “For healthy people who donate, it’s not that daunting. Nothing for me has changed. It was a tiny blip in my life. Within weeks of the surgery, I was back to doing all the things I did before – riding my dirt bike, snowboarding. It’s not as dramatic as people think it is.”

More than 814,000 Albertans have legally registered to affirm their wishes to donate their organs and/or tissues on the province’s online organ and tissue donation registry since its launch in 2014.

Albertans can also document their desire to donate organs and/or tissues at their local registry agent when they renew their driver’s license or other identification.

National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week is April 24-30. To learn more about living donor programs and how to become a donor, visit MyHealthAlberta: About Living Donation.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.