'He died a hero': B.C. Transplant says drug overdose organ donors on the rise

Wednesday September 20, 2017

In the first six months of this year, more than 750 people have died from opioid overdoses in B.C. alone. Last year, nationwide, the total was nearly 2,500.

With so many people dying, the crisis is making a noticeable difference for those who need new organs to survive.  

There has been a rise in the number of organ donations in the province. B.C. Transplant says in the first six weeks of this year, one in four organ donors in B.C. had fentanyl in their system when they were admitted to hospital.

Daniel Martens is one of the names behind those numbers. He was only 23 when he died of an overdose in 2016 — and he was an organ donor. 

Daniel Martens with his girlfriend, Stephanie

Daniel Martens with his girlfriend, Stephanie. (Jill Martens)

“Daniel was a happy person. He was very kind and compassionate. He had a great sense of humour,” Daniel’s mother Jill Martens tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti. 

“But I won’t sugarcoat things. Daniel was a challenging child to raise.”

Martens says that her son started smoking marijuana when he was 15 and that led to him taking other drugs. 

“I think Daniel suffered from a lot of hidden anxiety that John and I missed. He was using drugs to self-medicate anxiety in the beginning and peer pressure,” she explains.

“Eventually, you know, Daniel needed stronger and stronger drugs to get high,” Martens tells Tremonti.

“He came to me at work one day and told me that he was smoking heroin and that he needed to go to detox — it was out of control.”

That was the beginning of a long and difficult road for the Martens family.

Daniel detoxed and relapsed a number of times. Eventually, he was prescribed Suboxone, an opioid replacement therapy, and he went to a private rehab facility.

John, Jill and Emily Martens

John, Jill and Emily Martens – Daniel’s father, mother and sister. Jill is a member of Moms Stop the Harm, a group of Canadian parents who advocate for a new approach to addressing substance abuse. (Jill Martens)

By the spring of 2016, “everything seemed to be going so well,” Martens recalls.

“I just couldn’t believe how fortunate we were and told myself I could stop worrying … and unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”

On April 30, 2016, Daniel overdosed on fentanyl. Jill and John Martens headed to Kelowna General Hospital. Their daughter, Emily, was already there.

“When we met with the ICU physician that Saturday afternoon and she told us how grim the situation was, I said, ‘Well, what about organ donation and transplant?'” Martens says.

“You said that right away?” asks Tremonti.

“I did. Because that’s the area I work in down in Penticton,” says Martens, a nurse who works with people who have chronic kidney disease. 

Heart to Martens Family

A pendant the Martens family received from the person who received Daniel’s lungs. (Jill Martens)

“I’ve been the person jumping up and down next to the patient, whooping with joy, grin from ear to ear, knowing that one of our patients is going to get a kidney.”

After being on the other end of the transplant equation, Martens believes in organ donation even more than before. 

“Daniel was treated like a human being right from the beginning to the very end. I never once got the impression from anybody on the transplant team that he was a body on a bed with organs to be harvested to go to other people,” says Martens. 

“He died a hero.”

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current’s Kristin Nelson.

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