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David Ayres visits Saskatoon to promote organ donation with the Blades

By in Sports & Health
Carolina Hurricanes emergency goaltender David Ayres smiles while speaking to the press in a conference at Wendel Clark’s Classic Grill & Bar in Saskatoon, SK, on March 6, 2020. | Heywood Yu

After a lifesaving organ donation 15 years ago, David Ayres has continued to raise awareness for the cause following his NHL debut.

The 42-year-old, who is the operations manager for Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, became a spokesman for organ donation across Canada and the United States, following his outstanding performance on the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes.

As the emergency backup goalie, Ayres is in attendance for all Toronto Maple Leafs’ home games, and the opposing team is able to utilize his services.

During the Feb. 22 contest between the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, Ayres watched the game start to unfold as it normally would.

Following an injury sustained by the Hurricanes’ starting goalie James Reimer, Ayres got the call to go down to the dressing room and get half dressed.

When the Hurricanes’ backup goalie Petr Mrazek was injured in a collision midway through the second period and left the game, Ayres was given the nod.

“They tell you to come in and get the rest of your [gear] — your heart starts pumping right away. I was excited and ready to go,” Ayres said.

Ayres completely stole the show as he stopped eight out of 10 shots that he faced, back stopping the Hurricanes to a 6-3 victory over the Maple Leafs.

There is more to Ayres’ story than his hockey career. Frequent illness as a child took a toll on his kidneys. With both of his kidneys failing at the age of 25, Ayres needed a kidney transplant. His mother immediately stepped up to be a live donor, which meant that her son would receive a transplant at the age of 27.

“To have her be the first person to say, ‘How do I get tested? How do I get this going?’ was great,” Ayres said.

With the help of the organ donation, Ayres was able to become the oldest goalie to win in his NHL regular-season debut. It also makes him the first emergency backup goalie in the NHL to be credited for a win. 

For this accomplishment, his game stick was placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame and he earned the respect of the entire hockey world. This would not have been possible for him without his mother’s contribution.

Ayres now raises awareness about the importance of organ donation. Though some might be hesitant about a major surgery, he explained that his mother was out of the hospital after about five days.

“A lot of people don’t realize that if you donate a kidney, you still have regular function,” Ayres said.

When the Saskatoon Blades reached out asking Ayres to attend the annual WHL Suits Up to Promote Organ Donation, he did not hesitate.

“I was all in right away,” Ayres said. “Knowing that it’s organ donation night and me having a kidney transplant 15 years ago, any chance I get to use a platform to get that out there, I’m all over it.”

The Blades players wore special Hockey Night in Canada themed jerseys that were auctioned off, with the proceeds donated to Saskatoon’s local kidney foundation branch.

Over the two years that the event has been hosted, the WHL has raised more than $460,000. In addition to fundraising, various organizations attend to spread information and encourage people to register as donors.

According to the Kidney Foundation, 4,300 people were waiting for organ transplants in 2018, 78 per cent of them were on the list for a kidney.

Hockey is known for producing positive role models on and off the ice. The philanthropic spirit is embedded into Canada’s game.

Saskatoon Blades goaltender Nolan Maier stands in front of the goal post during a stoppage of play at the first period of the WHL action at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, SK, on March 6, 2020. | Heywood Yu

After the tragic bus accident involving the Humboldt Broncos, people across the country came together to support the survivors and mourn the lost lives.

Among those who passed away in the crash was Logan Boulet, whose organs were donated to save six people’s lives. 

Boulet was determined to become a donor after his close friend and trainer, who passed away suddenly, had his organs donated.

On his 21st birthday, Boulet signed his donor card — 5 weeks before his passing.

When the world heard of this young man’s gift of life, organ donation sign ups surged and blood donations increased dramatically.

This gave rise to a phenomenon that is now known as “The Logan Boulet Effect.” The phrase was printed on the inside collar of the Blades’ special jerseys for the night.

Signing up to donate your organs is not a light decision to make, but it is insurmountable as it will greatly impact a number of lives. 

Live organ donation of a kidney is the most frequent and successful transplant procedure, and donors are able to live long, healthy lives following their donation. There is a plethora of information and support available online for those wanting to make an informed decision.

In Saskatchewan, residents need to obtain an organ and tissue donor sticker from Saskatchewan Health, as well as fill out an intention to donate form.

After signing your organ donor card, one of the most important things that can be done is to let your family and friends know of your wishes to be an organ donor.

“To be able to reach out to everybody and let them know, you can be a donor,” Ayres said. “Just sign your card and it ends up saving people’s lives.”

Jenna Patrician

Photos: Heywood Yu

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