They lost their son in a fire in 2018 but he lives on.
Matthew Woodford, born and raised in Prince George, was an organ donor who signed the donation form at 18. Mom had to sign it, too, because he was underage, but even back then he was a giving kid, parents Rick and Noreen Woodford said.
Mattie, as he liked to be called, was living in Vancouver when he died at the age of 34.
“Five years ago this month,” Dad Rick said with a sigh.
Mattie’s lungs, kidneys and liver were donated to four different people who are alive today because of his generosity.
When the Woodfords got the news of the fire, they flew to Mattie’s bedside to hear the news that there was no brain activity after smoke inhalation stopped his breathing. He was already on life support and they were preparing to say goodbye.
“We knew he was never coming back,” Rick said. “So then I asked about organ donation. A young lady sitting across the table started to smile because she knew that Matthew had applied to be an organ donor at 18. In those days you had to be 19 so Noreen had to sign it and we totally had forgotten about that.”
He was always a giving person, Noreen said.
“We knew he definitely wanted to do that,” Noreen said.
Matthew showed just how much he cared at a young age, Rick said.
“Me and a buddy of mine took Matthew fishing before he was even in school,” Rick recalled. “We were out in the middle of the lake and my buddy was smoking, he finished his cigarette and flicked it into the lake. Well, Matthew tore into him. So I’m behind him so Matthew can’t see me and my friend is at the other end of the boat and my son is going on to the big strong man and I am behind him just laughing at this – he was saying ‘do you know what that does to the fish? Do you know what that does to the bottom of the lake?” – and he was just five or six at the time and that never changed.”
When Matthew was 10 years old, all he wanted for Christmas was to adopt a whale, Rick added.
“We knew from a very young age that he was very conscious of the world and he challenged us quite a bit,” Rick smiled.
Matthew was a musician first, a hospitality worker second.
“But he didn’t really know what he was going to do so he often took hospitality jobs because he loved people,” Noreen said. “And he loved Vancouver because he met people from all over the world.”
That’s what Mattie did to live but Rick thinks it was his volunteer work that was his true passion.
“He was always helping,” Rick said. “After he passed, we found out that he was taking a first-aid course and he ended up giving someone Narcan and saving their lives – and he never even told us – that was about two weeks before he passed away. His friends told us about it. He didn’t tell people about it. He just did stuff and helping people was his passion.”
Noreen and Rick just want the donor recipients to live as enthusiastically as Mattie did.
“We just want them to live their best life,” Noreen said.
“You got this gift, make the most of it,” Rick added. “They’ve been given another chance.”
“And so have their friends and family,” Noreen added. “We did get a letter from one of the recipients. It was an amazing letter, it was just, oh – teared up really quick on that one. They’re just so grateful they can do everyday things – go fishing, go for a walk, spend time with friends. It meant a lot to us to get the letter.”
Since Mattie passed, Rick and Noreen have become dedicated volunteers for BC Transplant, advocating for people to register as organ donors. They give talks and raise awareness, have been on posters to promote donation and even had a little video done to share their story of Mattie’s life-giving decision to be a donor that saved four people.
“It’s important to give back and we give little talks in Vancouver and we’ve had so many recipients come up afterwards and give us hugs to show their appreciation,” Noreen said. “It means a lot to us.”
With a new provincial record of 159 deceased organ donors, 465 transplants were performed last year. 5,863 post-transplant patients are now being followed and cared for thanks to our health professionals who dedicate their careers to supporting organ donation and transplantation.
There are 527 people and their loved ones still waiting for organ donation as of Dec. 31, 2022.
It takes two minutes to register as an organ donor, and British Columbians are encouraged to take action at www.taketwominutes.ca and then share their decision with loved ones.