Kailynn Bursic-Panchuk’s decision to become an organ and tissue donor is a big reason her mother, Sandra LaRose, keeps getting out of bed every day and doing her best to live a good life.
“The Humboldt bus tragedy had a big impact on Kailynn,” said LaRose. “She signed her organ donor card and put the donor sticker on her health card, mine, her dad’s and my husband’s. She said, ‘This (being a donor) is what I want.’”
At the time, LaRose thought, “What are the chances we’ll ever have to use that?” A few short months later, she found out.
Two years ago, Bursic-Panchuk, a Grade 11 student at Weyburn Comprehensive School, was critically injured in a distracted driving collision with a train. She was airlifted to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon where she lay in a coma for five days before her parents decided, after consulting with medical staff, to remove her from life support and follow Bursic-Panchuk’s wishes to donate her organs.
“I told her how proud I was of her and I promised her I’d make her proud,” said LaRose. “I promised I’d put one foot in front of the other and I’d stay strong. I vowed to live my life for her and me.”
Bursic-Panchuk died a day later, one day after her 17th birthday.
Sandra LaRose holds a photo of her daughter, Kailynn Bursic-Panchuk.
Two people benefited from Bursic-Panchuk’s decision. One received a kidney. Another, her liver. Her pancreas was used for research.
LaRose said by making her wishes known, her daughter made a difficult time for her family a little easier.
“I’m honored to be her mom and I’m proud that Kailynn was wise enough in her 16 years that she made the most selfless decision that anybody can make.”
LaRose has taken the lessons learned from her daughter’s accident and made it her life’s work to share them with others.
“The death of my daughter has made me a better person,” she said.
She has supported Green Shirt Day, the organ donation awareness campaign in honour of the Humboldt Broncos, and voiced an SGI ad promoting safe driving where she shared Kailynn’s story. LaRose was also the 2019 spokesperson for the national train safety organization Operation Lifesaver and participated in a train safety video, as well as a number of news stories. Most recently, with friends and family, she established Sharing Kailynn’s Sunshine Foundation, which she is in the process of registering as a non-profit organization. The term “sunshine” was chosen because her daughter described herself on her Facebook page as “just your local ray of sunshine.”
On the day Saskatchewan Health Authority spoke with LaRose, the foundation was holding an online auction in support of Ronald McDonald House in Saskatoon, where her family stayed when Bursic-Panchuk was in hospital, and to the foundation, which will use the funds to “inspire good works in our communities, make others smile and encourage others to spread kindness,” she said.
As part of LaRose’s efforts to heal, she contacted the recipients of her daughter’s organs to let them know she didn’t want them to feel guilty for benefiting from her daughter’s death. “I want them to be happy and healthy and live their lives as they choose. I wanted to let them know it was Kailynn’s choice to help them.”
She also contacted the train crew involved in the collision to let them know she held no anger towards them and hoped they were healing.
In response, the crew purchased a life-sized teddy bear and secured it at the accident site where Kailynn’s best friend also erected a memorial.
Pictured are the life-sized bear donated by the train crew involved in Kailynn Bursic-Panchuk’s accident and a memorial created by her best friend.
While LaRose is happy her daughter made her wishes to donate her organs known prior to her death, she says having a provincial donor registry, which launched Sept. 3, is going to make giving tissue and organs an easier, and presumably more common, practice.
“It takes out the emotional step at a traumatic time,” she said. “Your voice is heard and there’s no doubt what you want. Your family won’t question themselves.”
LaRose said she will always miss her daughter. “Her laugh, her quirkiness, I just miss her being.”
But, “as I do good in my own life, and the more we (the family and the foundation) do in Kailynn’s name, the more people will know her, even if they didn’t meet her, and the more it brings her back and keeps her legacy going,” she said.
Sandra LaRose shows the medal she received from the Saskatchewan Transplant Program.