A Life's Story

March 18, 2023

Grateful for a most precious gift

A double lung transplant gave Robyn Procak priceless time with her husband and young son; she made sure others knew about the incredible impact of organ donation

By: Janine LeGal

Robyn Procak had a great heart for helping people. It was her lungs that prematurely cut short her caring nature.

And, while her body ultimately rejected the lungs she received in a double lung transplant, the extra years they gave her made her a staunch advocate for organ donation.

Procak was still thinking about and doing for others, even while she was battling her illness in a hospital bed.

While dealing with lung rejection she donated to war relief. During recovery from her double lung transplant she read the many well-wishes she’d received on social media and, despite the overwhelming energy it took, replied to every one.

Her concern for refugees crossing into Manitoba prompted sending clothes. Procak always had a heart for others. She cared about everyone and was the first to make a plan to help when family, friends and even strangers were experiencing hardships.

Procak died Nov. 9, at the age of 37, after a long battle with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a double lung transplant and, ultimately, lung rejection.

“Robyn was the embodiment of grace,” said her husband, Ian. “She was kind to everyone she met.”

Born at the Winkler Bethel Hospital, Procak grew up in the rural farming community of Halbstadt. She loved animals, food, music and laughter. She played piano and saxophone, enjoyed painting, drawing and cross-stitch and delighted in spending time with her brother and parents on travel adventures. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in psychology and attended Providence Bible College for a year.

In 2008, she met her future husband in Toronto through a mutual friend. Their immediate connection led them to try a long-distance relationship, until they decided they needed to be in the same location.

After graduation, Procak moved to South Korea to teach English. Ian decided to join her after finishing his studies in Toronto. The pair worked as English teachers in separate schools and cities south of Seoul and moved back to Canada in 2011, marrying in 2013.

For seven years, Procak worked for the Winnipeg Police Service answering 911 calls before moving into other duties.

Having a child and being a mother meant the world to her, but when Procak was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension in 2012, giving birth brought serious risks.

“She didn’t blink an eye, as she thought she would look into surrogacy or even adoption,” Ian said. “Although — she being so young and responding very well to medications — her doctor said that he would give her a ‘yellow light’ to proceed with pregnancy.

“Hearing this, after our surrogacy contact fell through, came as a clear sign to proceed. The doctors still stated the risk, but she would be monitored closely. So, thinking we would rather have a child together for whatever time possible was better than having no child at all, we went for it.

“Even when being diagnosed with different health issues, she didn’t blink an eye; just accepted it, trusted in God and moved forward.”

Six months after their son Finn was born, Procak’s deteriorating health resulted in a series of near-death experiences. By March 2018 she was diagnosed with organ failure and landed her in the intensive-care unit on life-support. It was determined that she needed a double lung transplant.

Procak was coping well but there were countless sleepless nights for a worried Ian with their young son. She was flown to Edmonton for medical care where, after five open-heart surgeries, she received two new lungs in April 2018.

At the end of May she was moved to Health Sciences Centre. For the next four years, there were more health problems, including COVID-19.

“She was such a fighter all throughout her battles,” Ian said. “She just kept her head up and never worried. She was a devout Christian and believed that God was going to take care of her and all the things she cares about. By November 9th she was very ready to go.”

But through all the challenges, Procak made it her mission to let people know that organ donation was giving people a second chance at life.

“She was so grateful for the gift of life she received,” Ian said. “Not a day went by she wouldn’t mention that.

“Once she was well enough in Edmonton, she wrote a letter to the donor’s family, via the social worker, to express her undying gratitude and how much this meant to have more time with her son.

“Robyn mentioned a lot that life is precious. Her being young and coming so close to death multiple times she would say that a lot. Seeing others younger than her acting like they are invincible, she would say that more.”

Dr. Owen Mooney, medical director of the Gift of Life program at Transplant Manitoba, stresses the importance of having conversations about organ donation. On any given day, there are hundreds of Manitobans and more than 4,000 Canadians on wait lists for kidney, lung, liver, heart and pancreas transplants.

“The Canadian public as a whole understands that there is a major need in Canada,” Mooney said, adding one donor can save up to eight lives.

“In a dramatic sense, we know that a certain percentage of those patients will die awaiting a transplant. This is about living or dying, potentially saving somebody’s life. There will be rare incidents in somebody’s life when you can have that kind of impact.

“It is the most unselfish gift.”

Procak’s mother, JoAnn Heinrichs, remembers the hospital staff being loving and kind and working hard to ensure her daughter’s comfort.

“They were very special to her and to all of us,” Heinrichs said. “The doctors worked endlessly to keep her alive.

“When the news was not what we wanted to hear, it was Robyn who encouraged me. She was a tower of strength and courage. Her faith was solid in a gentle way. She was extraordinary, a beautiful soul, a sweet spirit, seeing the best in people with compassion, a genuine love and acceptance.

“A living angel on earth.”

Visit www.signupforlife.ca/ for more information about organ donations.


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