When a heart became suddenly available last autumn for a Qualicum Beach man awaiting a desperately needed transplant, time was of the essence.
But he couldn’t be reached.
So on that fateful night, many worked in concert to alert William ‘Ray’ Bruce, including an unlikely person an Oceanside RCMP constable who just happened to be on duty.
Cst. Tyler Jensen knew all too well that fast action was critical when awaiting an organ transplant: his father-in-law just received a new liver two weeks prior.
“I knew how important it was and wanted to help and do everything I could,” he said.
On Sept. 26, 2020, Jensen received a call just before midnight from Dr. Margot Davis, a cardiologist from St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver.
Dr. Davis had already spent several hours trying to get in touch with Bruce, his wife and anyone else on the contact list, but wasn’t having any luck.
“The cardiologist and I had batted around ideas and I said in the end, ‘let’s just call the police’. Because what civil resources are there in the night, and who else can you call to help?,” said Dr. Jamil Bashir, the surgeon who performed Bruce’s heart transplant.
At first Jensen attempted to call Bruce and his family, as Dr. Davis had done, but he too could not reach them.
For a brief moment the constable even considered Bruce’s previous address on Lasqueti island, though soon realized there wasn’t enough time to physically get there. In his research, Jensen was able to locate the address of Bruce’s daughter and son-in-law’s property in Spider Lake, a small community approximately 20 kilometres inland from Qualicum Beach.
Bruce told the PQB News cellphone service can sometimes be weak in the area and assumed that had been the case, as neither his nor his wife’s phone rang once throughout that night.
Jensen decided to drive out to the property and assumed he could simply walk up to the front door and knock.
“I couldn’t get up close to the house because of a tall fence that had big spikes on top and then the rest of the property was guarded by thorn bushes,” he said.
The constable then turned on his vehicle’s lights, sirens and spotlight, hoping the commotion would at least get someone’s attention.
He tried Bruce again, still without an answer.
Time continued to tick by.
Eventually Jensen had to call St. Paul’s and advise them that he couldn’t get in touch with Bruce either.
“If you don’t have the right person at that point, you have to let the organ go. And letting an organ go means letting the chance at life for someone go, too. So it was either Ray, or it was going to get wasted,” said Dr. Bashir.
Shortly after the call to St. Paul’s, however, Jensen spotted a neighbour with a flashlight. He advised the neighbour what he was trying to do, and fortunately the neighbour had a cell number for Bruce’s son-in-law, and was able to reach Bruce’s daughter.
Thanks to the officer’s persistence, Bruce and his wife, Suzie, caught the 6:30 a.m. ferry from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay the next morning.
Dr. Bashir said the latest time Bruce absolutely had to be on the operating table by was 11 a.m. on Sept. 27.
He and Suzie made it to St.Paul’s with just enough time to prep for surgery.
His needed for a new heart started in August 2019 after he survived an immense heart attack while chopping wood at his home on Lasqueti Island.
According to Dr. Bashir, Bruce had Ischemic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle was weakened as a result of a heart attack. In the months following, Bruce underwent several rigorous assessments to ensure he was a good candidate for a transplant. He was officially placed on the list nearly a year after his attack, and received the transplant only 31 days later.
He was one of 30 adults to receive a heart transplant from St. Paul’s in 2020.
“We actually have quite an exceptional donor supply that is really a tragedy in some ways, because a lot of it is related to the fentanyl epidemic and overdoses. The organ supply has been unfortunately large. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure,” said Dr. Bashir.
Since Bruce came to Canada from England in the early ’90s, he said he now considers himself a ‘true Canadian at heart.’
When possible, he and Suzie plan to meet Const. Jensen and properly thank him for the amazing effort he made.
Bruce also asks the public to seriously consider registering as an organ donor. Doing such a small thing can have a huge impact on someone else’s life in the future, he said.
Registering as an organ donor can be done online at transplant.bc.ca.
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