“Everyone has the potential to save a life,” said Connie Foster, whose brother, Curtis Jourdain, received a heart transplant at Toronto General Hospital last Monday.
She urges all Canadians to sign their organ donation cards, knowing firsthand how lifesaving it can be.
“It's overwhelming that someone gave him the gift of life,” Foster lauded.
“We are forever grateful to the donor, whoever that may be,” she added.
For the past few days she has been filled with joy and relief that her 53-year-old brother was finally able to receive a heart, noting that it was a last resort to save his life.
“His heart was failing and nothing could be done," she explained. "He needed the heart transplant-the doctors had exhausted all the other options that could help him.”
He has been in Toronto General Hospital since April of this year when his condition worsened and fluid buildup around his lungs and heart was no longer draining.
After a 16 and-a-half hour-long surgery the transplant was complete and Jourdain is now in recovery, where he will be closely monitored to ensure his body accepts the new heart.
“The surgery usually only takes nine hours but for a lot of the time they had to cut through all of the old scar tissue from his previous surgeries,” Foster explained.
“Now we're just hoping that his body accepts his new heart.”
Jourdain was born in 1965 with a hole in his heart and just three months after birth, he was first diagnosed at the clinic in Fort Frances with “Blue Baby Syndrome,” a condition caused by Congenital Heart Defect (CHD).
“This was the start of many visits to hospitals in Fort Frances, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, and Toronto,” said his father, Glenn Jourdain.
Due to the severity of his heart condition doctors said he had very little chance of surviving past six or seven years old when he was first diagnosed—over 50 years ago.
Jourdain is a complex case that has defied all odds. His sister calls him “a living miracle.”
“There has been several times where he almost died and didn't,” Foster remarked.
An example of this is when her brother developed Reyes Syndrome at the age of 13 while at a hockey game in Minnesota.
The illness is caused from aspirin overuse and at the time, was highly fatal, killing five out of six children who developed the disease.
Jourdain's father says he was an exception.
“After spending 10 days in a coma, he awoke unscathed," he enthused. "We recall only one 'Code Blue' during his 10 days.”
The next big test for Jourdain came in 1981, at 16 years old he needed to have a Fontan procedure at Sick Kids Hospital to survive.
And even though the procedure saved his life, the surgery has had lasting complications.
Life expectancies for Fontan patients have improved in the past few decades but the current life expectancy is still low, sitting at 35 to 40 years of age.
Only about 50 percent of the initial cohort that had Fontan operations in the '70s and '80s lived into their adulthood, let alone still surviving today.
Most patients die young because they are faced with Fontan associated diseases such as arrhythmia and liver disease.
In February of 2017, complications from the initial Fontan procedure had worsened causing doctors to perform a Fontan Revision operation to eliminate fluid buildup around Jourdain's lungs.
According to Toronto General Hospital doctors, Jourdain is the oldest Fontan Revision patient and oldest heart recipient at the hospital.
He has struggled with his heart condition since birth but never let it stop him from living his life to the fullest.
“He doesn't let things get him down or keep him down,” Foster remarked.
Jourdain worked all his life, predominately as an educational assistant at Robert Moore.
He also served as a volunteer firefighter in Couchiching for 20 years and as a fire chief for 10.
Jourdain always listened to medical practitioners and did everything in his power to live a healthy life, Foster noted.
“He listens to the doctors, takes good care of himself and is a real fighter,” she exclaimed.
While the family is overjoyed that Foster's brother has a new heart, the mounting costs that Jourdain's parent's Glenn and Genevieve face as they stay in Toronto, could become devastating.
To offset the costs, a family friend, Joanne Bruyere, had the idea to organize a benefit dinner this Saturday (Aug. 4) from 5-7 p.m. at the Couchiching Multi-Use Building.
“We are grateful for anything that will help them out, because [my parents] aren't asking for nothing,” Foster explained.
“When I told them we were doing this last night they were blown away,”
The Jourdain family encourages anybody in the area to come out for the dinner and support a great cause.
“If you want to come out and help my brother and my parents we would be forever grateful,” Foster pleaded.
She said the family has been very appreciative of the community's prayers and support.
“It's very overwhelming and we're very thankful,” Foster smiled.
Moving forward the Jourdain's have their fingers crossed as they wait to see if Curtis' body accepts the new heart.
“We're not sure how long he's going to be down there for but we'll keep praying that he makes a full recovery,” Foster said