GIVING THE GIFT OF LIFE: DonateLife Week is a national awareness campaign aimed at increasing the number of organ and tissue donations from the community, a gesture that is considered the ultimate gift. Pictured are Colin and Barbara Bott and Ange O’Callaghan with Sunraysia Donation Specialist Nurse at Mildura Base Hospital, Laura Harcoan.

By JOHN DOOLEY

PERHAPS the greatest gift one person can give to another is the chance to live, and that’s what happens when people choose to be an organ and tissue donor.

Next week is DonateLife Week – a national awareness campaign dedicated to promoting organ and tissue donation led by the Organ and Tissue Authority in partnership with DonateLife agencies in every State and Territory and other key stakeholders across Australia.

DonateLife Week is a key part of the Australian Government’s national program to increase organ and tissue donation and transplant outcomes in Australia.

The program aims to inspire all Australians to make a real difference to the lives of others by registering and telling their family they want to be a donor.

Some of the key messages to be highlighted include the fact that just one in five Victorians are registered on the Australian Organ register. Importantly, if someone does register to be a donor, it’s critical that they then inform their family and loved ones of their decision, which avoids any confusion or administrative complications in the future.

Nine in 10 families consent to organ donation when their loved one was a registered donor.

This drops to fewer than five in 10 when the family is unaware of their loved ones’ decision.

Sunraysia Donation Specialist Nurse at Mildura Base Hospital, Laura Harcoan, said she would love all Australians to learn more about organ donation and hopefully make the decision to register for the donor program.

“We have seen an increase in registrations and donations since the reform in 2009, but we would like to see those rates continue to rise, and that’s very much what DonateLife Week is about – increasing awareness in the community,” she said.

“Your family will always be involved in making the ultimate decision about donation, and therefore making sure they know about your donation decision is vitally important.

“When a loved one passes it’s a very emotional time, and we know that donation rates are at their highest when family are aware of their loved one’s decision and so we encourage people to share their donation decision amongst their family.”

In 2009 the Australian Government launched a national program to improve organ and tissue donation. Australia’s donation rates continue to improve each year, with 2017 seeing the highest number of organ donors on record.

Since the start of the national reform program, there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of transplant recipients, and the number of deceased organ donors has more than doubled, rising by 106 percent.

Organ donation has touched the lives of many Sunraysia residents including Merbein South couple Colin and Barbara Bott, whose grandson Emerson tragically died as the result of a car accident three years ago.

Emerson was just five years of age.

“At the time when we lost our little grandson Emi, I couldn’t believe how strong our daughter Alison and her husband Travis were – I was so proud of them when they made the decision to donate Emerson’s tissue,” Barbara said.

“They made that decision at probably one of the most terrible times in their lives, when they lost their little boy, and I couldn’t believe the strength they both showed at that most difficult of times.”

Both Barbara and Colin said the experience had opened their eyes to what organ donation was about, and the importance of it in helping so many people.

“We perhaps naively thought that organ donation was limited to things like a heart or kidney and liver, but there are so many other things that organ donations contribute to, we just couldn’t believe it,” Barbara said.

“It includes eyes and veins and other tissue including skin, it was a real eye-opener, and I came away from the experience quite enlightened.”

Colin said he recalled the joy that Alison and Travis felt at being able to help others.

“To have known other lives were saved and the quality of lives improved through their son’s precious gift of life was amazing,” he said.

Barbara and Colin recently attended a ‘Tree of Life’ remembrance event in Melbourne, where Emi’s donation was honoured, along with other donors who all had a leaf on the tree.

“It wasn’t until we were invited to remembrance day at the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria in Melbourne because of Emi’s donation that we understood the true value and meaning of organ donation,” Barbara said.

“We got to know some of the nicest people we have ever met, so understanding, a lovely group of people, and to see how grateful they were and how much it meant to give a life to someone else or a better life left you with a wonderful feeling.”

Mildura resident Ange O’Callaghan has experienced organ donation from the opposite perspective when her daughter Demi, who was barely one-year-old, contracted a viral infection which led to liver failure.

She required an urgent transplant to survive.

“We were very lucky to get an organ transplant for my daughter when she was just 10-months-old after she contracted a viral infection, which led to her liver failing,” Ange said.

“We were incredibly fortunate to receive that gift of life from an organ donor, and we are forever grateful, and my daughter is now a happy, healthy 13-year-old at school, enjoying a normal life.”

Laura has been in her role with Ramsay Health for four years, and described it as an absolute honour and privilege to do what she does.

“In this role, I really love being able to assist in the process of making donations possible. It’s an honour to work with families during what is always a difficult time for them,” she said.

“If someone is in hospital dying in a way that’s suitable for donation, then I have the privilege of coming in to talk to families about donation.

“I give them the information that will assist them in making an informed decision. If donation is something that is appropriate for them, I will continue to work with them through the process.”

Victoria has contributed more than one-third of the national donor pool, and so far this year in Victoria, 93 deceased organ donors have transformed the lives of 264 transplant recipients, and across Australia, 278 deceased organ donors have transformed the lives of 798 people.

Colin said the benefits of organ donation needs to be put out in the public arena.

“Like us, we didn’t know anything about it until we found ourselves in the situation that we did, and once it’s happened to you, it becomes part of you,” he said.

To become a registered organ or tissue donor visit www.donatelife.gov.au.

Registration takes less than a minute – you just need your Medicare number.