Harry Miller

Coombs car show this weekend: ‘Car nuts’ from Parksville say they have a new lease on life

Lung transplant recipients happy to share their stories and raise awareness during Coombs event

Come for the cars and sign up for the karma at this year’s 20th annual Blast from the Past Car Show ‘n Shine July 30 at the Coombs Fairgrounds.

Among the many hot rods and vintage cars that will be on display are two owned by a pair of recent lung transplant recipients, who have joined forces to promote Transplant B.C. while registering organ donors at area car shows.

“It’s payback,” said Courtney “Court” Smith, 68, who moved to Parksville from Vancouver with his wife Kathy and his 1926 Ford Model T hot rod after receiving a single lung transplant at Vancouver General Hospital in February, 2015. “Money can’t buy what we’ve gotten. We’ve won our lottery.”

Smith has been joined in his organ donor drive efforts by Harry Miller of Qualicum Beach, 69, and his wife Elaine. Miller, who has owned a pristine, restored 1956 Ford Crown Victoria, received a double lung transplant on Sept. 1, 2015, also at Vancouver General.

He joined Parksville’s Ocean Idlers Car Club after a chance meeting with Smith last fall while the two were having post-operative medical check-ups at Victoria General Hospital.

“I was talking with one of the staff there about finally moving to Parksville, and up pops Harry,” said Smith. “He comes running over and hands me his business card, which has a picture of his car on it. I said, ‘You want to join our club?'”

Miller said he knew of Smith before the two met, as one of the staff at VGH had told him there was a fellow lung transplant survivor who shared his affinity for classic cars — and who was planning a move to the mid Island from the Lower Mainland.

“I didn’t even get to say hi to him, because it was so crowded and busy with everyone there for their (medical) tests,” said Miller. “But he told me he got home and said, ‘Hey, Kathy, there’s another car nut from Parksville.”

A few months after his surgery, Smith said, he inquired of Transplant B.C. how he might help the organization. That’s when he learned about its public relations arm, which encourages transplant recipients to take part in organ donor drives and other activities to spread the word about the organization’s work.

“So I asked them, ‘Can we have your kit?'” Smith said. “We got their banner, brochures, pens, keychains, all that stuff.”

Because the regime of post-transplant medications leaves their immune systems compromised, Smith and Miller must avoid prolonged exposure to the sun to minimize the risk of skin cancer.

Smith and his wife got a pop-up canopy for their first car show after his surgery, hung the Transplant B.C. banner from its frame, set up a table and parked his hot rod in front to attract potential organ donors.

Upon meeting Smith, Miller and his wife joined forces the Smiths, and now the two men’s cars can be found at shows side-by-side at the Transplant B.C. tent while they greet visitors while wearing T-shirts sporting a pair of sketched lungs and the slogan, “Ask me about my transplant.”

“I’ve already got enough car show awards; I’m not interested in plaques and trophies any more,” said Miller. “This is what I’m interested in now.”

Smith said the men and their wives — who have served as their primary caregivers going back more than two years — have signed up an average of five or six new donors at each car show they’ve attended.

And they’re looking forward to signing up more this month at the Coombs Fairgrounds.

Gates open at 8 a.m. July 30. The event kicks off with a pancake breakfast and continues throughout the day, with food, music and other entertainment.

The Blast from the Past Car Show is hosted by the Ocean Idlers Car Club, which donates funds to area groups including the Arrowsmith Community Recreational Association (ACRA), the Coombs Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department, Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs and a Kwalikum Secondary School student scholarship program.

The car entry fee is $15; entry for the public is by donation. To enter a car of for more info, contact Clay Thompson at 250-752-9615 or lorrclay@shaw.ca.

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