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‘We have a job to do for her’: Cape Breton woman leaves legacy of organ donation awareness

Jessica Tighe, from left, daughter Violet and husband Mark Tighe. A longtime advocate for organ donation awareness. Tighe died last week from rare liver disease, days before Nova Scotia became the first place in North America to pass a law that means eligible donors who do not record a decision regarding donation on their health card will be considered as having agreed to be an organ donor. Contributed
Jessica Tighe, from left, daughter Violet and husband Mark Tighe. A longtime advocate for organ donation awareness. Tighe died last week from rare liver disease, days before Nova Scotia became the first place in North America to pass a law that means eligible donors who do not record a decision regarding donation on their health card will be considered as having agreed to be an organ donor. CONTRIBUTED
NORTH SYDNEY, N.S. —

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When Jessica Tighe died from a rare liver disease last week, she didn’t just leave behind a husband, young daughter and countless family members and friends — she also left a legacy.

On Thursday, Tighe, 30, lost her decade-long battle with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which attacks the bile ducts by progressively shrinking them due to inflammation and scarring. However, thanks to her family and friends, her tireless fight for organ donation awareness continues.

“She was quite an advocate so I think we have a job to do for her. We need to continue to advocate to make sure nobody dies on a wait-list,” her mother Patricia Power-Leyte told the Cape Breton Post on Monday, the day before her daughter’s funeral service.

Jessica Tighe, from left, husband Mark Tighe and their daughter Violet. CONTRIBUTED
Jessica Tighe, from left, husband Mark Tighe and their daughter Violet. CONTRIBUTED

Survived by husband Mark Tighe, daughter Violet, who turned four years old the day after her mother’s death, as well as father Doug Leyte and brother Coady, Tighe tirelessly campaigned for organ donation awareness after receiving a life-saving liver transplant when she was just 20 years old.

Power-Leyte said her daughter made presentations to medical students at Dalhousie University to raise awareness of her disease and volunteered with the Legacy of Life Organ and Tissue Program, speaking to community groups and health-care professionals to help make the organ donation process easier.

Days after her death, Tighe’s 10-year crusade became reality as Nova Scotia became the first place in North America to make organ donation a priority when the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act took effect. The so-called opt-out law means eligible donors who do not record a decision regarding donation on their health card will be considered as having agreed to be an organ donor after death.

Jessica Tighe shows her scars from a liver transplant. CONTRIBUTED
Jessica Tighe shows her scars from a liver transplant. CONTRIBUTED

“The fact this is all happening and the legislation is changing— everything just seems to be working in mysterious ways,” said friend Crystal Swartzack, who is a cousin of Tighe’s husband Mark.

“Obviously when she got her transplant all these years ago she advocated for everybody to have a conversation with their loved ones about organ donation. The fact that you now have to opt out to not be an organ donor was something she was so thrilled about. I’m super, super sad that she didn’t get to see it because she would have been so happy,” said Swartzack, who helped launch a fundraising campaign, Jessica's Journey for Violet, last week that exceeded its $8,000 goal by almost $500 in Tighe’s memory for the Canadian Liver Foundation.

Click here to donate.

Doug Leyte, from left, Jessica Tighe, Coady Leyte, Patricia Power-Leyte and Violet Tighe. CONTRIBUTED
Doug Leyte, from left, Jessica Tighe, Coady Leyte, Patricia Power-Leyte and Violet Tighe. CONTRIBUTED

Stephanie Hillier and Tighe are cousins who grew up together in Georges River. As she was writing the eulogy for a person she considered a sister, Hillier remembers Tighe as someone who always performed “selfless acts for others and knew the power and influence they can have on other people’s lives.” 

“She was always wanting to share,” she said. “I think more than anything the legacy she would want to leave behind is the message that we should practise gratitude.”

In addition to organ donation, Power-Leyte also wants to draw attention to the disease that claimed her daughter’s life. 

“Jessica was so excited for that law to come into effect. However, it’s still about awareness, it’s about education, it’s about doctors understanding,” she said.

Read Tighe's obituary. 

Chris Connors is a reporter with the Cape Breton Post. 

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