The Gift of Life

The gift of life, Domenic Fazioli
The gift of life, Domenic Fazioli

Changing lives with organ donation

Most people know Domenic Fazioli as a reporter at Breakfast Television breaking stories and covering local issues in the greater Montreal area. What’s lesser known about the 46-year-old is that he is a living organ donor.

Domenic donated one of his kidneys to a stranger so that his father, Cosmo Fazioli, could have another chance at life. At the age of 65, when Cosmo had just retired, he suffered kidney failure. After five years on dialysis, the outlook was grim. Domenic’s dad needed a new kidney. “Here’s the man who did everything for his family and now he needed his family to survive. My brother and I looked at each other and asked, ‘How are we going to live with ourselves if we don’t at least try?’”

But neither Domenic nor his brother were a match for their father, and the wait list was too long to hold out hope. That’s when Domenic heard about a program in Canada where people who are not blood compatible with a loved one can still save their life by donating their organ to another recipient. In return, the loved one is paired with a matching donor.

It’s called the Kidney Paired Donation Program, and the Fazioli brothers knew it was their best shot at saving their father’s life – despite Cosmo’s strong disapproval. “He said, ‘No way!’,” Domenic recalls, “but that’s my dad – he didn’t want to do anything that would hurt our lives.”

After undergoing countless tests, it was determined that Domenic was the most compatible for the program. “They created a chain of six people and it took three years to put together,” Domenic explains. “I gave my kidney to a woman in Ottawa. One of her relatives in Vancouver donated to a man in British Columbia, and that man’s wife gave her kidney to my dad in Montreal.”

All the transplants were performed in August 2012, when Domenic was 41 and his father was 73. Today the Fazioli family is doing well, with Domenic and Cosmo each having a fully functional kidney. “It was quite the couple of years but I’m glad I did it,” Domenic says. “It brings the family together, it’s heart-warming.”

Domenic hopes everyone registers with their province to be an organ donor. Every year thousands of Canadians like his father are put on an organ and tissue wait list. According to the Canadian Transplant Society, one deceased donor can save up to eight lives and improve the health of 75 people.But the numbers show that Canadians are not flocking to sign up.

According to the website, “90% of Canadians support organ and tissue donation, but less than 20% have made plans to donate.” It’s an issue that George Marcello has been trying to highlight for years. The 62-year-old Toronto native is alive today thanks to a liver transplant he had back in 1995. “Somewhere out there a family just lost somebody and was grieving, yet they found the courage and selflessness [to donate]. I had to acknowledge what this family did.” Marcello created the Step by Step Organ Transplant Association and began walking, holding a Torch of Life.

Between 1996 and 2002, Marcello walked more than 12,000 kilometres in communities all across Canada. With lots of media coverage, he even got the attention of Pope John Paul II.

He was invited to march in Rome, and in September 2001 he brought the Torch of Life to St. Peter’s Square. “Pope John Paul told me to pass the torch on to the young people,” Marcello recalls.

Since then, Marcello has been reaching out to students while trying to persuade government officials to make organ donation a priority. “I was advocating for the presumed-consent law. I was a big fan of this Spanish model, and they were leading the world in organ transplantation.”

Currently in Canada, one has to register to be a donor. In some European countries, people are automatically considered donors unless they opt out. “Organ donation brings cultures together. It brings religions together. It doesn’t just save lives – it brings humanity together.”