Wife, step-mother, tireless advocate for organ donation. Born on July 3, 1952, in Toronto; died on Oct. 20, 2013, in Gatineau, Que., of cancer, aged 61.
Leanne McDougall was born with a hole in a heart. Her parents were told they should take her home and love her, for she would not likely live to start school. But she defied the odds that were stacked against her at every turn. She started school, and she graduated. She went to work, and she fell in love. Young Leanne grew up to become a loving wife, step-mother and aunt, and a steadfast advocate of organ donations.
Born in Toronto, she was raised in Gatineau and started her working life as a bank teller at the Bank of Montreal’s main Ottawa branch on Sparks Street. There she met a security guard, Pierre Dupont, whom she married in 1977, at age 25. Because of her heart condition, she was not able to have children but she became a loving step-mother to Steve, Pierre’s eight-year-old son from a previous marriage.
When she was 36, during one of the many surgeries to repair her heart valve, it became clear she needed a heart transplant. Doctors put her name at the top of the waiting list and a few days later, on June 3, 1989, a match was made. Her new heart came from a 32-year-old man killed in a car crash. Leanne prayed daily for that man, a husband and father whose untimely passing would give her nearly 25 more years of a vibrant and productive life.
Because of her condition at the time she had to leave her career as a federal public servant, but began to volunteer when her health allowed it. She devoted herself to encouraging people to become organ and tissue donors. She saw how little the general public knew about becoming a donor, and how uncomfortable people were in discussing the issue with family and friends.
She volunteered for the Ontario branch of the Kidney Foundation and Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network, for which she organized Green Ribbon campaigns in the National Capital Region and helped others to launch campaigns across the country to raise awareness about organ donation. If someone was needed to speak at an event or address any group on this issue, she was there.
Her message was simple: “Becoming an organ and tissue donor is more than an act of charity. Simply put, it is also the right thing to do.” She stressed that the primary reason to become donor is to help someone in need. Her efforts, and her work with others, enabled many Canadians to prolong their lives by receiving a new heart, kidney, lung or other vital organ. She was a major contributor to the fact that many people are now registered as organ donors (primarily via www.beadonor.ca).
Leanne and Pierre knew the importance of organ donation from the recipient’s side but they also, tragically, experienced it from a donor’s perspective. In 2008, Pierre’s son died suddenly from a brain aneurysm at age 38. Because Steve told his family of his wish to be a donor, his death saved or improved the lives of five others. Leanne said his generous act was the only bright spot in that dark time.
Leanne’s devoted advocacy brought honours from groups including the Trillium Gift of Life and the Kidney Foundation of Canada, which will unveil a new award in her name when it marks its 50th anniversary in May. However, she wasn’t in it for the accolades. She had experienced, from both sides, what an organ transplant can do and she wanted to help others. Her legacy will live on whenever someone donates a life-giving organ, or receives that priceless gift.
Emile Therien is Leanne’s friend and a member of an organ-donor family. Gord McDougall is Leanne’s brother.