‘Something none of us will ever forget’: Humboldt Broncos parent meets with driver who caused son’s death

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Scott Thomas has waited 10 months to meet the man who caused the death of his son, Evan.

He got that chance Wednesday.

« It was the most exhilarating, exhausting, emotional 15 minutes of my life, » Thomas said in an interview with CBC News.

Semi truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu has pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing injury resulting from the Humboldt Broncos bus crash April 6.

His sentencing hearing is underway in a Melfort, Sask., gymnasium, held there to accommodate nearly 100 family and friends who gave victim impact statements over the first three days this week.

Broncos right-winger Evan Thomas was one of those killed. Scott Thomas and his wife gave an emotional statement in court Tuesday, speaking directly to Evan.

« Hi Son. It’s Dad. God, we miss you, » Thomas said. « Mom and I cry every day. We’re all just pretty messed up. »

Evan Thomas, 18, was among the 16 people killed in the crash. (Humboldt Broncos website)

Private meeting

Thomas also said that he’d like to forgive, but that’s something Sidhu will have to request in person. Thomas said he’d welcome the chance to meet Sidhu privately some day.

That day came sooner than expected. During the morning break Wednesday, Sidhu’s brother approached Thomas. He asked if Thomas would meet with Sidhu, and Thomas said yes.

Early in that afternoon, as soon as court adjourned for the day, Thomas walked into a small, private room off the gymnasium.

Sidhu, his brother and another older relative were waiting inside. They met for roughly 15 minutes.

Thomas told CBC News he preferred to not reveal the content of the conversation. He said they all took turns speaking, « but to be honest, it was more crying than anything. »

Thomas said he asked several specific questions. He said it ended with hugs.

« It’s something none of us will ever forget. It definitely was a good thing, » Thomas said.

He didn’t know if he’d ever get the chance to face Sidhu one on one, but « wasn’t surprised at all » by the offer Wednesday.

Sidhu pleaded guilty this month to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (The Canadian Press)

« There’s a lot about this case that isn’t normal. »

Thomas said the focus is, rightly, on the 29 families whose loved ones were killed or injured, but everyone should also have some sympathy for Sidhu’s family.

« Families have been torn apart, » he said. « His family is devastated, too. »

With victim statements complete, lawyers are expected to deliver their final sentencing arguments Thursday. It’s unclear when Judge Inez Cardinal will issue her ruling.

A shrine to Evan is set up at the front of the room at the SaskTel Centre, below the stage on April 16, 2018. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

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Ontario woman hopes to meet recipient of son’s heart more than year after his death

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BRAMPTON, Ont. – A Brampton, Ont. woman is hoping to meet the recipient of her son’s heart as she seeks closure more than a year after he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.

Sharon Vandrish said her 23-year-old son, Keerin John Reid, was taken off life support in September 2017 after he was declared brain dead.

She and her son’s father decided to donate four of their son’s organs, including his heart, through the Trillium Gift of Life Network, Ontario’s organ and tissue donation and transplantation service.

“I just knew that (Keerin) would have wanted something good to have come out of this tragedy,” said Vandrish.

Six months after the organs were donated, Vandrish wrote a letter to the heart recipient and the two have been corresponding ever since. She also wrote to the other three organ recipients, but they have not replied.

“It’s not like I’m trying to hold on to a piece of my son. I know he’s gone,” she said. “To me, this would just close a loop.”

Letters sent between donor and recipient families are reviewed by Trillium to ensure they abide by a series of guidelines, such as not including identifying information, according to agency’s website. However, approximate age and gender can be included. While the agency allows donor and recipient families to communicate anonymously, it does not connect them to meet in person.


READ MORE:
Nearly 100K register to donate organs after Humboldt Broncos crash

Representatives from Trillium did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vandrish said she was feeling sad on Christmas, because of the loss of her son and because she didn’t know the identity of the man who now has his heart. She then wrote a post on Reddit to see if she could make contact with the man.

“I was just frustrated at this process I guess,” said Vandrish. “I just wanted to reach out and see.”

Keerin John Reid is seen in a handout photo provided by his mother Sharon Vandrish.

Sharon Vandrish / The Canadian Press


READ MORE:
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But Vandrish said she hasn’t had any luck yet, and for now, she copes with her son’s death by going to a support group. She also has her son’s thumbprint on a bracelet charm, and she said she plans to get a tattoo to remember his “gift of life.” She said the heart recipient sent her an electrocardiogram of his heart about a week ago so she could get it tattooed along with her son’s heartbeat from when he was still alive.

“Those are just little things to keep him close and just keep those memories alive,” said Vandrish.

She said she also learned through corresponding with the heart recipient that he is a middle-aged father of two, whose brother died about seven years ago of a heart disease similar to the one the recipient was diagnosed with.


READ MORE:
Father of special needs children overwhelmed by response to organ donation plea

She said her son was an avid soccer player and gardener, who eventually took over her backyard to plant flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Vandrish said she received a letter from the recipient that said he had recently taken up gardening shortly after the heart transplant.

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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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