BY BILL PHILLIPS
Matthew Woodford had a big, loud laugh.
It could get him in trouble sometimes, but mostly it endeared him to the people around him.
He also liked liked to help others. When he was seven years old, growing up in Prince George miles away from the ocean, he saved up his pennies so he could adopt a whale … to help save the whales. He was part of a television commercial advocating for mental health resources. He was a foster parent for a number of years.
Just a month before he died he not only organized a fundraiser for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver, he sang at the event which featured classic rock, hip hop, soulful pop, and an a cappella group and which raised money for a worthy cause.
“The week before (he died) he had actually used one of those (Naloxone) kits and saved someone’s life,” says his mother Noreen. “He was always big into (helping).”
Matthew gave to others all his life and, in death, he continued to give of himself … literally. When Matthew turned 18, he signed up to be an organ donor and his lungs, kidneys, and liver have given life to four other people somewhere in British Columbia.
In April last year, Matthew was caught in a house fire. He ended up on life support in Vancouver General Hospital. He was 34 years old.
Noreen, Matthew’s father Rick and sister Suzanne, along with other family members, flew to be at Matthew’s bedside.
“You’re sitting there waiting and waiting to find out what’s going on,” says Rick. “You know the ultimate outcome is that you’re going to lose your child or sibling. That part was difficult.”
They had completely forgotten that Matthew had signed up to be an organ donor 16 years previous and when they were given the devastating news.
“There were about nine or 10 (family) members there when the doctor told us that Matthew was not going to survive,” says Rick. “We all started talking about donating his organs.”
It wasn’t an easy or comfortable discussion but the family agreed.
“This young lady popped up this form and said ‘I’m glad that’s what you want to do because that’s what Matthew wanted,’” says Rick.
It was a decision that, in a time of grief, helped the family.
“… The fact we did the donor thing, made us feel better. There are rewards that are hard to express about how good it makes you feel when you realize there are four people out there (because of the organ donations).”
To know that being an organ donor was also Matthew’s wish, made a tough decision, a little easier.
“That’s the kind of person Matthew was,” says Rick. “He was a giving and caring and always about the underdog. So this was good, very good … There’s four people running around in B.C. who may not be here if it wasn’t for our son.”
They actually got to say goodbye Matthew in a rather unique way. The family encountered members of the transplant team transporting Matthew’s lungs to another hospital.
“It was a weird coincidence,” says Suzanne. “It was like ‘there he goes on his next journey.’”
“We had just lost Matthew a couple of hours earlier, but we were all smiling,” says Rick. “We all waved.”
Transplant BC also helped the family through everything.
“They are very thorough in the process,” says Suzanne. “They were so compassionate and gentle with us.”
“We have to tell people how great the paramedics, first responders, the firemen and the people in the ICU at Vancouver General were,” says Rick. “They were kind and they were gentle, always asking how we were doing.”
Matthew was a singer/songwriter. When he was about five or six he asked for a piano. Rick and Noreen didn’t rush out and get him one right away, but Matthew kept nagging his parents and they finally relented. He was a gifted piano player and when he got older, he moved to guitar, eventually playing in a couple of bands.
When he was in his early 20s, he moved to Vancouver and was living there when he died.
The Woodfords have received a letter from one of the recipients thanking them. They don’t know who it is or where they are, but just knowing they’re there is enough.
“We don’t need to know who it is,” says Rick. “Just the fact there is somebody out there breathing fresh air and having a life that wouldn’t have is enough.”
The family, of course, have signed up to be organ donors and enough all British Columbians to sign up with BC Transplant and become and
More than 500 people in B.C. received a new organ last year, setting a new record for the total number of transplants in a calendar year.
Kidney transplants led the way with 339 transplants. There were 28 heart transplants in 2018 – tying the record set in 2016 – 50 lung transplants. and 77 liver transplants.
There are 669 people on the waiting list in B.C. Twenty-seven people died last year while waiting for a transplant. Ninety per cent of the people in B.C. support organ donation, but only 20 per cent actually register.
“If we could get half the people who believe in the program to register, maybe the waiting list would be very small,” says Rick. “Any maybe no one would die.”
The process has obviously changed the family.
“It has been altering for us, we slow down more, we pay attention more, and we take better pictures,” Rick says. “The fact you can do this, makes you feel good.”
Adds Noreen: “It just makes you stop and think about what’s important and how you want your life to be.”