Skip to main content

School stories, art, teach kids about organ donation for Humboldt Broncos' Green Shirt Day

Toby and Bernadine Boulet, shown in a handout photo, have joined the Canadian Transplant Association for the sixth annual Green Shirt Day initiative to support organ donation in honour of their son Logan Boulet and 15 others who died in a bus crash in Saskatchewan in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO Toby and Bernadine Boulet, shown in a handout photo, have joined the Canadian Transplant Association for the sixth annual Green Shirt Day initiative to support organ donation in honour of their son Logan Boulet and 15 others who died in a bus crash in Saskatchewan in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

When Sandra LaRose's 16-year-old daughter decided she wanted her organs donated, she encouraged her mom and step-dad to do the same and put red and white stickers on their Saskatchewan health cards.

"I remember her saying, 'Where are the organ donation stickers?' " LaRose said of Kailynn Bursic-Panchuk, who rummaged through the house in April 2018 to unearth the stickers. 

The "jokester" who loved feeding the cows, goats and sheep on the family's farm in Tyvan, Sask., about an hour east of Regina, died in a pediatric intensive care unit about three months later, a day after her 17th birthday. 

Kailynn had recently learned to drive and was distracted by her phone when her car was hit by a train, LaRose said.

Her heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas and lungs were harvested so other lives could be saved. 

Kailynn's decision made the organ-donation process easier for the family and hospital staff, LaRose said 

She said Kailynn was inspired to donate by Humboldt Broncos defenceman Logan Boulet, who was among 16 people killed when a truck struck his junior hockey team's bus on a highway north of Tisdale, Sask. Because of his decision to donate five weeks earlier, six of Boulet's organs were donated when he died in hospital the next day — April 7, 2018.

Since 2019, that date has come to be known nationally as Green Shirt Day to support organ donor registration. Led by Boulet's parents and the Canadian Transplant Association, the campaign urges registrants to discuss their decision with family. 

A star-shaped logo featured on this year's Green Shirt Day jersey and T-shirt was designed by an Indigenous artist from the Blood Tribe of southern Alberta.

Supporters are encouraged to wear green in the lead-up to Sunday, when landmarks will be lit green in many communities that hold skating and hockey events as well as other gatherings. The southern Alberta chapter of the Kidney Foundation of Canada has planned a parade in Calgary. 

Kathleen Fleming, director of the British Columbia branch of the Canadian Transplant Association, said more schools have participated in Green Shirt Day activities this year, with some students creating art projects as they learn about organ donation. 

She read a book called "The Ant Who Needed a Transplant," written by a former transplant surgeon, to elementary school students this week in Maple Ridge, B.C., and a heart recipient spoke to middle-school children in Kitimat, Fleming said.

"Children are incredibly pragmatic," she said of the youngsters' reaction to the book about Papa Aunt, who needs a new heart because he can no longer climb up a hill. "They just were very interested in the process."

The association is trying to get more schools to introduce age-appropriate resources in elementary and high schools, said Fleming, whose brother and niece have both had double lung transplants. Another niece received a kidney.

Logan Boulet's mother, Bernadine Boulet, a Grade 2 teacher in Lethbridge, Alta., said her school held an assembly on the first Green Shirt Day, when the subject of organ donation was "tiptoed" around.

But even primary students have since normalized it, as have most people, she said.

Boulet has introduced students to the Mighty Orgamites, animated characters in the shape of eight main organs and tissues that can be donated. They were first used as a resource by teachers in Britain and have been increasingly incorporated into teaching materials in Canada, complete with Canadian accents, she said.

On Thursday, Grade 1 and 2 students at her school will present a play about a boy who needs a heart transplant, Boulet said.

"It starts out with the kids playing in the playground and the little boy is coughing and having trouble breathing. Then they go to the doctor, who says: 'We need to put him on a transplant list.' "

On the night of the bus crash, Boulet said doctors at a Saskatoon hospital told her and her husband Toby Boulet that their son would not survive a brain stem injury.

"My first thought was, 'He's young, he's healthy, he's fit. He has organs that someone could benefit from and have a better life. So I asked if Logan could be an organ donor, if that was a possibility. They were shocked because that rarely, as we've learned, happens," said Bernadine Boulet, her voice breaking.

She did not know until then that eight months earlier, her son had told his father during a passing conversation that he wanted to donate his organs. He was inspired after his fitness trainer's family donated his organs, saving six lives.

The young Boulet was adamant about registering as an organ donor on March 2, his 21st birthday, Toby Boulet said.

The couple have received letters through the Saskatchewan Transplant Association from two anonymous people who received their son's heart and kidney.

All they know is that the heart recipient is a single parent who lives outside of their province, Bernadine Boulet said.

"We don't know if it's a mother or father but it has allowed that person to be healthy enough to be able to do things and to take care of their family."

Residents of all provinces can now register online to become organ donors through their transplant association. Nova Scotians are automatically considered potential organ donors, unless they opt out. Families are still consulted about their loved ones’ wishes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 6, 2024.

Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content Top Stories

Stay Connected