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The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week: Jay Peckham

Cathy Dobson It was April and Sarnia’s Jay Peckham was gravely ill and in dire need of a life-saving liver transplant.
Jay Peckham was discharged this week from University Hospital with a new liver and a new outlook on life. Nothing is getting taken for granted anymore.

Cathy Dobson

It was April and Sarnia’s Jay Peckham was gravely ill and in dire need of a life-saving liver transplant.

Advanced liver cirrhosis had robbed him of his ability to walk, had filled his body with fluids and reduced his normally unstoppable voice to a whisper. His family and friends saw one of the most vibrant people they knew – the go-to guy who always gets the job done – struggling as he waited for a new liver.

Around that time, Jay met the people at Sarnia Organ Donor Awareness (S.O.D.A.) and was so impressed with what they do, he began advocating for them, sick as he was.

“I didn’t even know they existed until I was ill,” he said, speaking on the phone from a hotel close to London’s University Hospital just three weeks after receiving a transplant.

Always a smile even while waiting for a new liver.

He was discharged from hospital on Monday and is required to stay nearby for a couple of weeks in case of any complications.

“I want to say the volunteers at S.O.D.A. are amazing and now that I know what they do, I will do whatever I can to help them,” he said.

“If my story can get more people to check that box on their driver’s licence, I’m happy to tell it.”

Advocacy is something Jay does well. People who know him from his wide range of community-based activities, say he is a very good communicator and puts his whole heart into whatever he takes on. It’s what makes Jay exceptional.

Even before his transplant, he was already advocating while on the wait list, says Sue Morrison-Weir, chairperson and patient liaison with S.O.D.A. “No one realizes how many in our community are impacted by transplants. Organ donation is still something we need to talk about more.”

Jay, 58, got on the transplant list for a liver in April and received a new one from a deceased donor less than a month later. Typically, it can be a five-year wait for a new liver, said Sue.

“Getting one within a month is not unheard of, but it doesn’t happen often. Jay’s situation is exceptional," she said. "It always makes me feel that a miracle has happened when patients go through what is a very difficult surgery and then we see them up and moving around again, like Jay.”

With wife Catherine and dog Oscar before getting ill.

Two summers ago, before he got sick, Jay had an exhaustive list of interests and activities that he made time for in addition to his wife Catherine, three adult kids, and his job at St. Francis Advocates (SFA), which supports adults with autism and developmental disabilities.

He was heavily involved in Theatre Sarnia, the convenor of Co-Ed Family Fun Baseball, owner of Simplified Technologies and a Sarnia Sting hockey super fan.

“I’m not surprised he’s advocating for S.O.D.A. and he’s only just got out of the hospital,” says friend and fellow motorcycle enthusiast Dave Burrows. For years, the two have done a live stream broadcast of Sting games together. “I’m the straight man and Jay brings the flare,” said Dave. “He knows so much about the Sting. He’s been a fan since Day One.”

Whatever Jay gets into, there’s no half-way about it, agreed Dave. “His transplant has been a really big eye opener for him.  We’ve had some really emotional conversations.

“I know he looks at things differently now and I know how grateful he is to have a new chance at life.”

Jay’s transplant story began in July 2021 when he had his gall bladder removed. Two weeks later, the surgeon told him he had serious liver cirrhosis.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease had slowly destroyed his liver function for years.

Jay said the news was shocking. He was angry no one had flagged it.

In healthier times. Floating around in a pool in Cuba with his favourite Sting jersey on.

“If caught early, liver disease can be reversed. I want people to know they need to pay attention to their body and watch their enzyme levels.

“This is a terrible disease and I’m that public guy who has no problem telling it like it is.

“People need to recognize what being an organ donor means to the rest of the world.”

His health declined until he stopped working and all extracurricular activity. He spent most of the winter in hospital.

“A month ago, I was so sick from the bad liver. It had become so debilitating. I was knocking on death’s door.”

Then the call came that a donor match had been found.  Surgery was complicated.  He had a cardiac arrest on the table.  But 16 hours later, the transplant was complete and Jay’s amazing recovery began.

“Jay has an incredible spirit and always had incredible energy until he got sick,” says Theatre Sarnia pal Holly Wenning. “He’s very well respected by the local theatre community and we are all very happy that he’s coming through this.”

“He’s passionate about everything he does," said his wife Catherine. And now we know he’ll put all that determination into his recovery.”

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