Cayden Desjarlais fit a whole lot of life into his 28 years.
His parents, Dan and Deanna Desjarlais, recall him being free-spirited from the day he was born, never one to fit the mold or follow the crowd, but always looking out for others and fiercely loyal to his friends and family.
“He always wanted to make people laugh and enjoy themselves,” Dan, who lives in Salmon Arm, said. “He loved being the centre of attention. He had this charisma and personality that people were really drawn to. His sense of humour and his whole presence - you knew when Cayden walked into the room.”
Raised in the Lower Mainland, Cayden moved to the South Cariboo in 2017, following in the footsteps of his mom, cousins and their children. After spending some time working for New Waves Docks, he started his own business - CJD Custom Metal Works - and was looking forward to growing his company and enjoying all the Cariboo had to offer.
“He really enjoyed the fresh air and the freedom, I think the city was too much for him,” Deanna said, noting that he loved spending time adventuring with his many friends, his tight-knit family and his adoring nephews and niece.
But last summer, Cayden’s life was tragically cut short after he was critically injured in a motorcycle crash on Watch Lake Road on July 28. Dan and Deanna were given the worst possible news by doctors at Royal Inland Hospital: Cayden would not survive the massive brain injuries he had sustained.
While trying to process the devastating outcome, they were told another shocking piece of news - unbeknownst to them, Cayden was registered as an organ donor.
“I remember looking at Dan and thinking, wow, that was something I never imagined Cayden would have ever thought of,” recalled Deanna, a Horse Lake Road resident.
It took a few days for the medical teams to coordinate the transplants - wildfires were raging through the province at that time making it impossible for medical helicopters to fly into Kamloops. The transplant team ended up relocating Cayden to Vancouver via ground transport, where his heart, liver, both kidneys and islet cells were transplanted to five recipients.
“I couldn’t believe that at his age he would even consider donating his organs,” Dan said. “It doesn’t surprise me, Cayden was always a giver. For me, I was very proud.”
Cayden was one of many people last year whose organs helped save the lives of strangers, something that brought both comfort and pride to his family.
According to statistics from the Provincial Health Services Authority, 2021 was a record year for transplants in B.C., with 529 patients receiving organs, the majority from dead donors. There are currently 1.57 million British Columbians registered as organ donors, including Dan, Deanna and many of Cayden’s friends and family.
Throughout the month of April, BC Transplant is campaigning for registrations as a part of Organ Donation Awareness Month.
“People need to be prepared for situations like this,” Dan said. “A lot of times you never think it’s going to happen, but you need to have a plan in place in case something does happen.”
The process brought moments of levity to Cayden’s mourning loved ones, something they agree Cayden would have approved.
Deanna said her son’s strong work ethic, outgoing nature and dynamic personality were just a few of the traits that ensured he made a lasting impression wherever he went.
“His voice was always heard, whether you wanted to hear it or not, you heard it,” Deanna said.
“We did joke that whoever is getting his liver, we hope they drink Busch beer.”
Due to privacy constraints, the family does not know who received Cayden’s organs. After a six-month wait, they were allowed to send an anonymous letter to BC Transplant, indicating their desire to connect with the recipients, who will have the final say if they also want to get in touch.
Both Dan and Deanna said they would “absolutely” want to meet any of the people who received Cayden’s organs, noting that meeting the heart-transplant recipient would be especially meaningful.
“To hear his heart beating through somebody else would give us the courage to continue on, knowing that he’s out there,” Deanna said.
To register as an organ donor, or to find out more about transplants in B.C., visit transplant.bc.ca