LIVING DONOR? Former Ottawa nurse is seeking liver donor after needle stick

Pam Hopkins-Dargavel acquired hepatitis C after she accidentally stuck a needle through her hand while working with a young hemophiliac in 1990

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A former Ottawa Hospital nurse who acquired hepatitis C from an accidental needle stick is searching for a living liver donor who can help rescue her from organ failure.

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Pam Hopkins-Dargavel was working at The Ottawa Hospital in 1990 when she accidentally stuck a needle through her hand while working with a young hemophiliac who had acquired hepatitis C during Canada’s tainted blood disaster.

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Hopkins-Dargavel was later diagnosed with hepatitis C, a viral infection that can cause liver inflammation and more serious damage.

Her illness has progressed during the past two decades, badly scarring her liver. That cirrhosis is so bad that she now needs a new liver, said her husband, Greg Dargavel.

His wife suffers from chronic fatigue, he said, which has curtailed her family life and daily activities. Ella she used to sail, ski and cycle, but she has become too sick to enjoy those pursuits.

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“The challenges of everyday living are beyond her energy level; the only way to give Pam back her life from her is a liver transplant, ”Dargavel said in an interview. “I can’t find the words to describe how hard it is for our children, Ryan and Meagan, and me to see Pam get sicker every day.”

His wife’s liver is unable to properly cleanse her blood, Dargavel said, so she also suffers from a brain fog that can leave her searching for words. Ella she’s on an extremely restrictive diet, he said, and twice a week she goes to the hospital to receive new blood products.

“She can make it through a day in the house, but it’s really, really difficult,” Dargavel said.

Hopkins-Dargavel, now 67, is one of more than 260 people on the wait list in Ontario for a liver transplant from a deceased donor.

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But with the wait time for a transplant uncertain — receiving an organ can take years — the family launched a search for a living donor with blood type B+, B-, O+, or O-. No one in the Hopkins-Dargavel family has come to be the right blood type to serve as a donor.

Dargavel began the search earlier this year by placing a sign in the window of his car, then he took the search to Facebook two weeks ago with the help of Ottawa communications expert Heather Badenoch, a living donor who gifted part of her liver to a child in 2018.

Hopkins-Dargavel is on the transplant list at Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN). According to the UHN, it has conducted more than 800 living liver donor transplants since 1990 and all of its donors have returned to their regular lifestyle with no restrictions.

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Recovering from donor surgery — donors give a portion of their liver to a patient — takes about six weeks, according to information on the UHN website. Liver function is fully restored in a donor within two weeks.

Potential donors need to be between the ages of 16 and 60 years old and in good health to apply. The first step in the application involves an 11-page health history. The testing, surgery and hospital stay are covered by OHIP.

Anyone who wants to learn more about liver donations or apply to become a donor for Hopkins-Dargavel can visit the University Health Network’s web page for living donors.

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