Through the new $2-million Specialist in End-of-Life Care, Neuroprognostication and Donation (SEND) program, 22 specialist physicians are coordinating organ donation and transplantation opportunities.

The specialist physicians are available 24-7 to improve identification of potential donors, support families considering consent at a difficult time and save more lives.

“Thank you to all those Albertans who are living donors and to the families of those who, in their hour of grief, choose to help out other families by agreeing to their loved one becoming a donor. SEND funding for recruitment, training and coordination will find new opportunities for organ donors to save lives. I urge every Albertan to do their part by registering their consent to become a donor on Alberta’s Organ and Tissue Donation Registry or in person at your local registry agent.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

“My private member’s bill, the Human Organ and Tissue Donation (Mandatory Referral) Act, 2022, will put in the necessary foundation to modernize and improve our organ and tissue donation system. The SEND program and combination with key components from Bill 205 bring an exponential positive impact towards tissue and organ donation that will ultimately reduce wait times for organ and tissue donations and help save lives.”

R.J. Sigurdson, MLA for Highwood

Though Alberta’s donation rate has increased by 28 per cent from 2011, hundreds of Albertans are waiting for life-saving transplants.

Prior to the SEND program, northern and southern Alberta each had a medical director who also functioned as donation specialist physicians. However, there were no dedicated donation physician positions for individual hospitals and intensive care units. 

The SEND program delivers improved education for physicians, residents and other health-care providers regarding end-of-life care, neuroprognostication and organ and tissue donation, to help ensure opportunities for donation are not missed.

“Organ transplantation is life-saving and quality-of-life-enhancing for many Albertans with advanced kidney, liver, lung or heart disease. The main source of organs for transplantation is when critically ill patients and their families graciously offer to donate organs following death. In the midst of grief and tragedy, some deceased patients’ families find comfort knowing that something positive has come out of an otherwise devastating experience. The SEND program will promote excellence and growing expertise in care of potential donors. It is our hope that the program will help foster a strong culture of organ and tissue donation in Alberta.”

Dr. Andreas Kramer, medical director, Southern Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Program, Alberta Health Services

“Alberta Health and AHS are continually seeking ways to ensure that opportunities for organ and tissue donation are provided whenever appropriate. This infusion of expertise into the health-care system is expected to reduce missed donation opportunities and increase our ability to offer critical organ transplants through advanced education, ongoing training and comprehensive support – which ultimately benefits Albertans in need of organ transplantation.”

Dr. Francois Belanger, chief medical officer and vice-president, Quality, Alberta Health Services

“Everything we can do to support families and individuals in becoming organ donors is vital. Investing in a fully resourced organ donation system for the province will be life-changing for the hundreds of Albertans on the waiting list for a transplant and for people who wish to become organ donors.” 

Joyce Van Deurzen, executive director, The Kidney Foundation of Canada, Southern Alberta Branch

“At seven years old, our daughter Sloane knew that she wanted to be an organ and tissue donor, an easy decision for her simply because that’s how she lived. She had immense gratitude for family and community that moved her to seek moments in need of joyful kindness and giving. It was a reflection of Sloane’s loving spirit that we fought for her to be the first pediatric donation after circulatory death (DCD) organ donor in Alberta.”

Shannon Viczko, mother of Sloane Viczko, deceased organ donor

Albertans who are interested in becoming an organ and tissue donor can register their consent in one easy step at or in person at an Alberta registry office. If a loved one has not registered as a donor, family members can make a decision about donation on their behalf, so it is important for Albertans to share their wishes with their family.  

Quick facts

  • The SEND grant supports recruitment and enhanced training of 22 critical care physician positions recruited across the province to support organ donation, providing 24-7 availability to consult with physicians on potential donor opportunities:
    • six SEND physicians and one program lead in Calgary
    • six SEND physicians and one program lead in Edmonton
    • one SEND physician in Red Deer
    • two SEND physicians (one shared position) in Lethbridge
    • two SEND physicians (one shared position) in Grande Prairie
    • one pediatric SEND physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital
    • two pediatric SEND physicians (one shared position) at Stollery Children’s Hospital
    • It is expected that the program will expand to Medicine Hat and Fort McMurray in 2023
  • The SEND grant also supports
    • Education for intensive care and emergency care physicians in identifying donation opportunities.
    • Implementation of donor audits – reviewing patient care records of people who die in emergency departments and ICUs to identify reasons potential donors may have been missed.
    • Initiatives to increase understanding as to why donors are missed or do not donate, which will in turn inform changes required to ensure donors are not missed in the future.
  • As of April 25, more than 21 per cent (815,000) of adult Albertans have registered their wishes to become an organ and/or tissue donor after death. 
  • Alberta’s deceased donation rates have been below those of other provinces for many years but are increasing.
    • Alberta had 16.8 deceased donors per million (dpm) in 2020, British Columbia had 21 dpm, Ontario had 21.3 dpm.
  • Alberta completed more than 400 organ transplants and more than 2,600 tissues were released for transplant or surgical reconstruction last year.
  • Alberta’s two transplant programs had record years in 2021 despite challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Southern Alberta Transplant Program performed 105 organ transplants in 2021, exceeding the previous record of 101 set in 2017.
  • The Edmonton Kidney Transplant Program performed 49 living donor kidney transplants in 2021, exceeding the previous record of 45 set in 2004.