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Deer Lake man relishing life as three-time organ donor recipient

Joe Northcott is an organ donation recipient.
Joe Northcott is an organ donation recipient. - Contributed
DEER LAKE, N.L. —

It’s often said that it only takes “that once” to realize the importance of something like organ donation.

Imagine three times.

Joe Northcott of Deer Lake is a three-time organ recipient. He vows the medical procedure is a life-changing treatment, and believes those willing to be a donor are making the ultimate selfless act.

Committee members for the first Green Shirt Day event, from left, Fayth Schroeder, Glendins Kenny, and Sharon Chynn Anstey
Committee members for the first Green Shirt Day event, from left, Fayth Schroeder, Glendins Kenny, and Sharon Chynn Anstey

At the age of 18, Northcott contracted streptococcal pharyngitis — more commonly known as strep throat. It was believed the infection spread and affected his kidneys. As life continued, pretty much normally for close to 18 years, his kidneys worsened.

“During that last year my energy was a drag,” the businessman said. “I would tire easily … I would drive to Corner Brook and have to rest. I would have to come home from work around 10 o’clock and rest. I would go back to work, come home for lunch and have a rest. I would go home again around 3 or 4 o’clock to have another rest and go back to work. That’s how I was doing it for months.”

Eventually, his kidneys gave out. In 1980, his younger brother Jim would step up to donate a kidney.

“To be honest, it wasn’t discussed that much,” he said. “I was just following on normally until the last year, when I started to get dragged out. He came forward to give me his kidney … What can I say? We were close, so you do what you can for your family.”

The transplant was done at Toronto Western.

In 1999, with little-to-no explanation, his liver faltered. Northcott says doctors ruled out liver problems associated with such things as alcohol or hepatitis, but could only say it was possibly linked to medication he had taken over the years.

Regardless of the cause, he was in need of another organ transplant. This time, he received a liver from a cadaver. He does not know the person who died so he could continue to live, but he certainly knows how he feels about the family of that person.

“I do think about how good the family was,” he said. “It must have been a good person who donated, and it goes back to the family too for the final decision. Whoever they were, were really good people.”

Event organizer Brian Snow discusses plans for Green Shirt Day with fellow committee member Sharon Chynn Anstey.
Event organizer Brian Snow discusses plans for Green Shirt Day with fellow committee member Sharon Chynn Anstey.

Around the same time as his liver transplant, he started having complications with the kidney he received from his brother 19 years earlier. He would need a third transplant.

He spent more than two years receiving dialysis, a time he says was very difficult. It was his late-sister, Bernadette McCormack, who made the sacrifice of a kidney for her brother in 2002. Again, Northcott said it was a case of family doing what family does for each other.

“I had a big family,” he said. “Thank God I did. I had another brother who was also compatible too.”

The Salvation Army Church in Deer Lake is having a “Green Shirt Day” event April 7. It is part of the national movement recognizing Logan Boulet, a member of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team who was killed tragically April 7 of last year. Boulet, whose organs saved six lives, became an organ donor as he turned 18 years of age just over a month before the crash.

Northcott says organ donation is a selfless act that he wishes more people signed up for.

“Your life changes completely,” he said. “I had my own business, and I could work day and night right around and do it with no problem.”

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