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HEALTH NEWS

Double-lung recipient Helene Campbell of Ottawa leads the final steps of the Torch of Life tour through Ontario in Toronto on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. On her right is Palestinian Khaled Khatib, whose 11-year-old brother was shot dead by an Israeli soldier and whose organs were donated to five Israeli children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

Double-lung recipient Helene Campbell of Ottawa leads the final steps of the Torch of Life tour through Ontario in Toronto on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. On her right is Palestinian Khaled Khatib, whose 11-year-old brother was shot dead by an Israeli soldier and whose organs were donated to five Israeli children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

Torch of Life tour ends in dance, donor plea

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - A Torch of Life walk through 71 communities to raise awareness of the need for transplant organs ended Tuesday at the Ontario legislature with a rally and a plea for people to sign donor cards.

Double-lung recipient Helene Campbell, of Ottawa, who has attained celebrity status with her spunky campaign urging people to register as donors, carried the torch on the final leg.

"The miracle of receiving the gift of life for me has been outstanding and remarkable," Campbell said.

"There's so many people out there waiting ... for organs."

Carrying the torch over the past 110 days was Khaled Khatib, a Palestinian whose 11-year-old brother Ahmed was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in 2005.

Khatib's family donated the boy's organs to five Israeli children.

"Please do not let this dream die," Khatib said, adding he wants to repeat the tour across Canada.

"I want to help children who need organs - I don't want to see them die."

Also on hand as the Torch of Life tour wrapped up was a Scottish Jewish woman, Marsha Gladstone, whose 19-year-old son Yoni Jesner was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber on a bus in Israel in 2002. The Gladstones donated his organs to a Palestinian girl.

Gladstone called it emotional and moving to be part of the "incredible" event.

"I'm so pleased and proud that we were able to make a real difference and to use Yoni's organs and to make life come out of death," Gladstone said.

"It's the best thing you can possibly do - to take your loss and turn it inside out and let it be an instrument to bring some good into this world."

Following a news conference, Campbell, 21, led several dozen people in her trademark organ-donor dance on the inside steps of the legislature, culminating in a rousing rendition of O Canada.

Campbell's story and bubbling enthusiasm has made her a media favourite, appearing via Skype on "The Ellen Show" and drawing support from pop star Justin Bieber.

Stepping out of her wheelchair to take part in the donor dance was Nancy Salvalaggio, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who desperately needs new lungs and a liver. Such events, she said, make a difference.

"This is a very humbling experience," Salvalaggio said.

"We've already had people tell us they weren't registered (as donors) before and they are now."

George Marcello began the Torch of Life program 16 years ago after he received a liver transplant and started walking to honour his donor family. In 2001, the Pope blessed the torch and told Marcello to spread the message through children.

Marcello fell ill due to the sweltering weather Tuesday and was unable to make the final short leg to the legislature.

"It's too bad he couldn't be here after that long journey," Campbell said.

Copyright The Canadian Press
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