Mountie tracks down B.C. organ recipient who was out of cell reception when match was found

VANCOUVER — Ray Bruce almost missed out on his recent heart transplant.

At the age of 70, the B.C. man has a brand new heart beating in his chest, and it’s thanks to a committed RCMP officer who tracked him down while he was out of cell reception.

Bruce had a heart attack while chopping wood in 2019 on Lasqueti Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, where he lives with his wife Suzie.

“It wasn’t like you see in the movies,” Suzie said. “We thought he had pneumonia. He had a sore throat and we thought it had gone to his chest.”

Bruce was eventually airlifted to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, where he stayed for more than a week.

His doctors told him he didn’t qualify for stents, and that he would need a new heart. He and his wife decided to stay with Bruce’s daughter who lived on Vancouver Island while they waited for a donor, so they could be closer to hospitals on the island and B.C.’s mainland when the call came.

That call came in 31 days later. Doctors had a match.

But the hospital couldn’t get in touch with Bruce.

Dr. Jamil Bashir, head of cardiac surgery at the University of British Columbia, was part of the team trying to call Bruce in.

He said what happened was the heart was initially meant for someone else, but the first recipient had had an unusual CT scan.

“At the last minute we had to change to a different recipient and that’s where things got exciting,”  Bashir said in an interview with CTV News Vancouver on Monday.

Bruce was the only other person on the recipient list that was a match for the heart in question.

The doctor said they only had about 12 hours to get him to St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver to complete the surgery.

“If we didn’t make it happen, we were losing a heart.”

Bruce and his wife were staying in a family member’s guest house on that particular night, and neither of their phones had cell service.

Running out of time to reach them, the hospital decided to call the local RCMP detachment where Const. Tyler Jensen was on shift.

Using the information provided by the hospital, the constable was able to work out where Bruce was staying. Around midnight, he drove to the property.

“It’s a pretty rural property, there was a tall gate that would be hard to climb. The rest of the perimeter was tall bushes,” he told CTV News by phone.

“I was stuck pretty far away from the house itself but I could see just a piece of the house, I turned my lights and siren on to try to wake them up. That didn’t work,” he said.

Eventually a neighbour came out and was able to put the officer in touch with the family. Around 1 a.m., Bruce’s daughter woke him up with the news he had been waiting for.

“She said, ‘Ray, they got a heart for you,’ and I woke up and I thought, ‘Is this a dream?’” he said.

The next morning Bruce and Suzie caught the ferry to the Lower Mainland and he went straight into surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Almost six months on, Bruce says he’s “feeling great.”

He and Suzie have been living in Vancouver to be close to the hospital but plan to move back to Lasqueti Island and he’s hoping to find the constable who made it possible to say thank you.

Bruce is originally from the U.K. but says he now feels “completely Canadian at heart.”

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