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Torch of Life relay comes to Whistler

Local student, councillor raise awareness on Canada’s organ tissue donation shortage



An Olympic-style torch to raise awareness of the need for organ tissue donations passed through Whistler Monday morning as part of a trans-Canada tour.

Whistler Secondary School athlete Stephen Chelli ran with the Torch of Life from Alpine Meadows, along Highway 99 and Northlands Boulevard, to the village, accompanied by Councillor Ralph Forsyth.

“The run was great, and I met an inspiring young man, Stephen, who was just incredible,” said Forsyth.

“I was really pleased and honoured to contribute.”

Chelli is one of hundreds of students who have carried the torch through Canada’s 10 provinces. The tour kicked off last September in St. John’s Newfoundland, and British Columbia is one of the last stops on the tour’s route.

From Whistler, the Torch of Life will travel north to Quesnel and Prince George, in British Columbia, then Whitehorse in the Yukon, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and finally Nunavut’s capital Iqaluit.

According to tour organizer George Marcello of SOS 4000, the group organizing the campaign, the tour aims to spread the message that organ tissue donations are desperately needed in Canada.

“There are over 4,000 Canadians that are on the waitlist for an organ right now,” said Marcello.

“There are probably 20,000 more that cannot even get on the waitlist because there is such a shortage, so they are being turned away. It’s a really big problem here that could be solved.”

Marcello launched the campaign after receiving a critical liver donation 12 years ago. He had been diagnosed with thrombosis and given two days to live unless he received immediate treatment.

Since his recovery, Marcello has met with various Canadian authorities to raise awareness for organ tissue donations.

“The issue still is not getting the recognition or attention it deserves, and it’s a fixable solution,” said Marcello.

“We are planning to have the students become our ambassadors so they can urge the entire country to understand how important this is. That is why we are working with hundreds of schools across the country.”

Forsyth said he was shocked to learn from Marcello that Canada has such a low number of transplants compared to other countries.

“What really blew my mind is that he said we can solve the problems of transplant short gages if we all just signed up,” said Forsyth.

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