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Brampton, Ont. woman searching for the recipient of her son’s heart

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A Brampton woman is on a mission to find the man who received the gift of her son’s heart earlier this year.

Sharon Vandrish’s journey began back in September 2017, when doctors told her that they were going to unplug her son, Keerin Reid, from life support. He was 23 years old.

Keerin had been in hospital for three days after suffering from an accidental fentanyl overdose before doctors declared him brain dead. 

His mother said she immediately wanted to « find something positive out of the tragedy. »

« At least we could save the lives of others through his passing, » she said in an interview.

« That gave me some level of comfort. »

Vandrish donated her son’s organs — including his heart — to four people through the Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN).

The network, which is the provincial body responsible for organ donation in Ontario, facilitates communication between recipients and a donor’s family six months after the operation takes place.

Sharon Vandrish describes her late son as ‘very supportive’ and ‘loyal.’ (Submitted) 

Vandrish took the first step.

« I remember saying that if the size of my son’s heart was measured by how much he loved me, then it wouldn’t fit in the recipient, » she said.

She and the recipient of her son’s heart struck up a correspondence.

« I just wanted to get him to know Keerin, to make it more humane than just an organ. He was a person. »

Through their letters, Vandrish learned that the recipient was a 54-year-old father of a boy and a girl. She also found out that shortly after the transplant, he picked up hobbies that were dear to her late son.

Keerin was an avid gardener, which she explained in one of her letters. The recipient broke down in his reply, confessing that he had recently taken it up. 

« Its a roller-coaster of emotion because you want to know that person is OK … and you want to know that your son’s memory lives on, » she said. 

Confidentiality laws

After exchanging three powerful letters, Vandrish wants to meet the man himself.

« It just seems like a natural progression to me, » she said. « I just think it would close the loop on this whole process. »

But according to Ontario law, organ donations must be kept strictly confidential. Even the letters exchanged between the pair pass through the foundation to be vetted first to ensure they do not breach the rules.

« Personal information is protected to safeguard both the donors’ families and recipients, ensuring that neither is subject to an undesired relationship, » TGLN said in an email. 

« Organ and tissue donation is an emotional process, and the feelings of both donor families and recipients are difficult to predict or assume. »

Sharon Vandrish carries a charm with her late son’s thumbprint and his initials on her bracelet. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

Vandrish doesn’t agree.

« If we’ve both said yes, I don’t understand why you’d want to prevent that, » she said. She has reached out to the foundation directly, but they advised her to lobby her MPP.

« I don’t know how to lobby my legislature, nor do I imagine they’d care about my little situation, » she said. « It’s probably a drop in the bucket compared to bigger issues. »

She took to Reddit instead.

Vandrish’s appeal comes just months after a Newfoundland woman, Jodi Loder, was able to feel her brother’s heartbeat after a similar search.

Loder’s brother died in 2016 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. The recipient, Robert Buttle, lived over a thousand kilometres, away in Battersea Ont. But after two years — thanks to social media, a CBC interview and sheer determination — Loder was able to connect with him. 

« It was amazing, just to put my head on Rob’s chest and listen to it the same way I listened to Jeff’s. It was beating the exact same beat, » she said of the experience. 

« It felt like home. »

This is the same type of heartfelt connection that Vandrish is looking for. 

Her message to the stranger out there with her son’s heart?

« No pressure but if this is something that interests you. I’m sure there are many ways that you can get ahold of me. I would welcome the opportunity. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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