Even with the battle over, the fight lives on.

Sammy Khalife was someone who inspired many to never give up, and still does even after his passing.

Khalife was a well-known face around Swift Current, hard to miss with his bright smile and happy demeanour. While those are always endearing to see on anyone, on Khalife they were a bigger deal than with anyone else.

Being diagnosed back in 2018 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that meant his heart was enlargening, becoming too big. Khalife had his life forever altered as he would go from a nurse to a permanent patient on the transplant waiting list.

For many, this would have been a burden that would have broken their smile. But for Khalife, it was the beginning of a long, precarious struggle that he would smile through the whole way, and making his voice one of awareness and change.

During an appearance back in April for the annual Swift Current city council meeting, Khalife presented Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week to council members; to raise awareness and celebrate those who donate and need donations.

Sammy Khalife Adressing City Council in AprilSammy speaking to Swift Current city council. (photo by Hayden Michaels)

"I encourage you if you know someone waiting for an organ, please, keep them in your thoughts," Khalife asked. "Give them a call, write them a letter. The pandemic was mentally draining. It's isolated a lot of people because they worry that they will get something."

Never one to let his condition define his limits, Khalife worked to meet with many levels of government, including Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors, and Rural and Remote Health. 

Together with other advocates, they discussed changes that could be enacted to better protect and encourage organ donations, in part leading to registration changes in Saskatchewan for those who would like to donate and a brand new registration website.

"To see the website live, at first I bust out crying," Khalife had said. "It's a great feeling, and to be part of it is even greater. I feel like now I can leave and I put my mark in the community."

Speaking at events was a main staple of Khalife's efforts, often spotted around Swift Current promoting his cause. Though he didn't have a pulse with his ventricular assist device (VAD), he was the beating heart behind major changes in both public opinion and official policy.

Braving the dangers, he underwent a procedure to bypass his enlarged heart, installing his VAD. This replaced the internal components of his heart, directly piping into his heart's valves, bypassing his overburdened organ. 

Brandon Wiebe, a close friend of Khalife's over the last four years, was always amazed by Khalifes's relentlessly positive outlook.

"If you asked him how he was doing, he would always say 'good'," said Wiebe. "And fairly often it made me quite irritated because I knew how badly he was doing. But he always wanted to bring hope and positivity into [the] conversation."

Far from being a perfect fix, Khalife now ran on lithium batteries, always in danger of a low charge, and possibly deadly infection. Now, he was at the mercy of the organ transplant waiting list.

The waiting list is a tricky thing to navigate. Doctors need to have an organ that is viable with the right size, age, blood type, and physical match. These and other medical variables would see Khalife always just shy of his goal, coming off and on the list periodically.

Val Salter, who had known Khalife since he first arrived in the southwest, was close to Khalife. She saw how these difficulties played out for her friend and witnessed the can-do spirit he tackled them with.

Val and Sammy photo courtesy of Val SalterVal and Sammy on an episode of 'Bridging Borders' that they starred in back when Sammy was new in town. (photo courtesy of Val Salter)

"He had the first VAD three years ago, and the surgery didn't really work as well as everybody expected," explained Salter. "So it was more open heart surgery, new procedures. When he came out of it, the doctors told him 'You need to lose some weight and then we will reassess you to put you back on the transplant list'."

Following those issues, Khalife would have a gallbladder attack, spending weeks in hospital. Again, this complication pushed him off the transplant list.

"A year afterwards they actually thought they had a heart for him," revealed Salter. "But when they did all the tests, it was a no-go."

During a doctor's visit, it was revealed that Khalife would need a large, robust heart for transplant. That was at odds with the majority of organs available, as a large, healthy heart is a rare commodity. 

The biggest struggle is always getting people to give the gift of organ donation. Khalife brought to light that most folks don't know that they need to sign up and register or that they need to make it clear to their families that they want to donate their organs, as next of kin can overturn that once an individual has passed away.

"I think we need to really work on promoting organ donation," said Salter. "To be quite honest, I never really thought of it until I met Sammy and started working with him. Then I saw the journey that he took."

He and a group of eight other would-be-recipients got to know each other through the Edmonton Hospital as individuals unified by their conditions. He always tried to speak up about their struggles, even after he was the last one left who hadn't gotten a heart or hadn't passed away while waiting.

Khalife, even though he was working toward his transplant, losing weight and trying to get to a healthier state, was fast approaching his limits.

After a long, half-a-decade fight, Khalife decided he was going to accept the facts. His heart wasn't going to heal, and he wasn't making headway on the transplant list. 

Khalife decided to stop taking his medication. He passed away soon after, leaving behind a legacy of championing those who need organ donation, and raising public awareness of the issues surrounding the system that failed him.

Now more than ever, Khalife lives as a symbol for the fight to improve education on organ donation, the dangers living on the donation list imposes upon the sick, and the need for more people to donate.

"I don't think that he's a forgettable individual," said Wiebe. "He's touched hundreds of lives in our city and probably in some other cities as well. People won't forget that when they think about organ donation, so I think his legacy is there to stay." 

Wiebe runs Khalife's memorial Facebook page, where people can go and share their fond memories of Khalife and his impact on their lives.

While he is gone, his name will live on in the hearts of those that knew him, and in the memory of a public who saw a man stronger than his condition.