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Organ donation activism through art

Posted on February 15, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman
Commentator/Courier Photo by Cince Johnston. Preview: These and numerous other photos by Cince Johnston will be on presentation of “Freddy and Ceydie” at the Susan Andersen Library in Bow Island on February 28.

By Brylan Span
Commentator/Courier

Susan Andersen Library in Bow Island will be hosting photographer Cynthia (Cince) Johnston’s exhibit “Freddy and Ceydie”, on February 28.

The exhibit is a collection of photos accompanied by writing, which focuses on the story of Johnston’s daughter Ceydie and man from Belgium named Freddy. The two individuals are connected in life for the fact that they both had their lives saved by a shared liver transplant. The photo’s were taken ten years after the transplant took place.

Johnston, who was born in Calgary and currently resides in Quebec City, previously lived in Belgium where she played professional basketball. It was there where she spent the early years of her children’s lives. 

Attendees of the exhibit will hear Johnston present the story, and “talk about my own personal experience as a parent of a child who suddenly was in a situation where her liver failed and went from a healthy child, to five days later being number one on the Euro transplant list and how life changing that is” said Johnston. 

The idea for the project was a result of realizing that Canada is opt-in when it comes to becoming an organ donor, unlike Belgium which is opt-out. When moving back to Canada, Johnston said ”I remember thinking when they asked me if I wanted to sign my card, they said ‘Oh you know you don’t have to sign it right now, you can bring it home and think about it’ and I remember thinking ‘Oh gosh well no I’m going to sign it right here right now’ and I thought well if I took it home or if people take it home there’s less of a chance that it will actually be sent in.”

According to Johnston, only 20 per cent of Canadians sign their donor card, and only 12 per cent are able to actually donate due to families’ ability to overrule. This is also something different in Belgium, where the law was changed to get rid of the family veto. With the limited number of organs available in Canada, Johnston said that at the time 65-year-old Freddy “would never even be considered, because he was older, he was a diabetic, … and he told me that he drank a lot.”

This lack of available organs in countries that are opt-in has caused an uptick of the red market, which is the illegal organ trade. 

“When there isn’t enough organs, there are people with money that go elsewhere and people that don’t have money that need it are willing to sell a kidney, for example. So the World Health Organization has encouraged countries to figure it out and solve it within their own lands” said Johnston.

Through her exhibit, Johnston hopes to not only inspire Canadians to sign their donor cards, but to spread “my bigger message that we should look at and consider changing the system.”

Susan Anderson Library will be the first library to host Johnston’s exhibit, as she has previously only shown in galleries and other art spaces. For Johnston, taking the exhibition on the road will serve a purpose of reaching a different demographic. 

“I just feel that the message is not limited to the art world or the photography world. And it’s also this whole idea that art is larger than just in an art space,” said Johnston. 

Johnston will have her work hanging throughout the library on February 28, and will be presenting from 6:30-8 p.m. You can also visit her website cincejohnston.com, where you can find the collection of photos along with information on how to sign your donor card.

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