Brandy Hehn was a regular in the kidney dialysis unit at the Regina General Hospital when the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash happened five years ago.
Sixteen people died and 13 were injured after a transport truck went through a stop sign and into the path of a bus carrying the Saskatchewan junior hockey team on April 6, 2018.
Hehn, now 39, remembers a nurse walking into the room where she was getting a dialysis treatment a couple days later and commenting on the crash.
“She said, ‘Did you know one of the boys was an organ donor?’” Hehn recalled in an interview from Regina.
“I said, ‘No, I had no idea.’”
Hehn was not on a recipient list at that time, but she said everyone in the room looked around and wondered if anyone they knew got their long-awaited kidney transplant.
Logan Boulet, 21, had signed up to be an organ donor on his birthday — five weeks before the bus crash.
Six people across Canada benefited from Boulet’s organs and the Logan Boulet Effect soon followed. Canadian Blood Services said nearly 150,000 Canadians registered to be donors in the two months after learning he had signed his donor card.
It led to Green Shirt Day every April 7, the anniversary of Boulet’s death, to promote organ donor awareness and registration across Canada.
Hehn, a multimedia designer who’s now a two-time organ recipient, created this year’s T-shirt — its design inspired by the Pittsburgh Penguins logo and team captain, Sidney Crosby, whom Boulet admired since he was a boy. It includes 29 gold stars for everyone on the bus, two hockey sticks for those who put them on their porches after the crash and the social media hashtag #LoganBouletEffect.
Dr. Sam Shemie, medical adviser for deceased organ donation with Canadian Blood Services, said donations have been “relatively steady” in the five years since Boulet’s death.
“Bless that family for what they’ve done in his honour,” he said in an interview.
The Logan Boulet Effect, said Shemie, continues to start conversations.
“Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have registered their decisions about organ donation or had a conversation with people they love about how they feel about it.”
Logan’s father, Toby Boulet, said his family felt it was important to talk about his son’s donation from the beginning and it ballooned from there.
“Logan’s story has touched a lot of people,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it has been five years.”
Boulet added that Hehn’s T-shirt design for Green Shirt Day this year is “really cool” and her personal story is inspiring.
“She’s from Saskatchewan and she’s doing really well,” he said. “It can’t always be the Boulets saying the story. It’s got its own legs in all corners of the country and into the (United) States. That’s what we want.”
Hehn’s story started when she was having mysterious medical symptoms as a teenager.
“They kind of mimicked arthritis,” she explained. “My knees would swell up. I would be out at a party in Southey, Sask., and I would have to hang out in a car because I couldn’t move my legs.”
She had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three years earlier.
Two weeks after her Grade 12 grad, Hehn got another diagnosis: autoimmune hepatitis, a rare liver disease that occurs when the body’s immune system turns against its liver cells. The cause is unclear, but it could be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
By her early 20s, Hehn needed a liver transplant. She got one when she was 25.
Her kidneys didn’t do well as her liver was failing. Doctors told her to also expect a kidney transplant in the next decade.
“I started dialysis in 2016,” she said. “I had six per cent kidney function.”
Hehn, who was in her early 30s at the time, said dialysis was “zero fun.”
She worked during the day, then went to the hospital in the evenings for several hours three times a week.
In 2020, Hehn got a new kidney from a deceased donor.
“It is completely like a new life,” she said.
Shemie, also an intensive care doctor at Montreal Children’s Hospital and McGill University, said thousands of Canadians are waiting for an organ transplant and hundreds die each year.
“Ninety per cent of Canadians say they support organ donation, but only about 32 per cent of them have actually registered their decision,” he said. “If you support it, register your decision or talk to your family.”
Hehn, who initially told her story as a recipient in an online video, said she wanted to tell people there are young people like her who benefit from organ donations — and thank donors such as Logan Boulet.
“When you hear (his family) talk about it firsthand, it’s the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever hear,” she said.
“We don’t know who Logan’s recipients are, but putting a face to a recipient … it’s important to show.”
Hehn said she’s inspired by the Boulets.
“As euphoric as it is to get a kidney,” she said, her voice breaking, “it pales in comparison to the pain you hear from them.
“They make me tear up every time.”
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press