Little Michael Theobald just celebrated his first birthday after being given the most generous gift of all — a new liver and a second chance at life.
Michael spent the first six months of his young life in hospital after two early medical problems were discovered. He had a slowed heart rate and when he couldn’t feed properly on his mother’s breastmilk, doctors also found the levels of ammonia* in his blood were at toxic*, life-threatening levels.
“The breastfeeding and the heart problem initially* saved his life,” his mum Sashi Theobald said.
Doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne told the family their boy had a rare genetic disorder*. He lacked one enzyme* that prevented him from getting rid of nitrogen* from his body. The condition is called Ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency.
“No matter what the team tried to do, he seemed to be going downhill,” Mrs Theobald said.
It was clear a liver transplant* was Michael’s only chance of controlling the build-up of ammonia and saving his life.
Michael’s name went to the top of the organ donor transplant waiting list and his mum started preparing herself to donate her own liver to her son.
But Michael’s most precious gift came from a stranger. A new liver generously donated thanks to a decision made by a grieving* family who had lost a loved one.
“I was ready to get on that operating table on the Thursday, and he got the transplant on the Tuesday,” Mrs Theobald said.
“It’s given him a chance to live.
“I think about the donor a lot. I’ll never forget them. My son is proof just how much a liver changes a life. It’s given him a second chance. He wouldn’t be here without it.”
Michael celebrated his first birthday last Friday, surrounded by his family.
This week, as part of Donate Life week, Australians are encouraged to talk about organ donations with their own families and consider joining the Australian Organ Donor Register.
WHY DO WE NEED ORGAN DONATIONS?
Organ transplants save lives.
People who need an organ transplant are very sick because their own organ is failing.
Organ transplants are made possible through organ donation, which is often described as the “gift of life”.
There are two types of organ donation:
- Deceased organ donation is when the organs of someone who has died are donated
- Live organ donation is when a living person donates an organ. Living donors can only donate a kidney or, very rarely, a part of their liver.
Donated organs are removed by surgeons in an operating theatre, and then transplanted into the body of the organ recipient* in another operating theatre.
WHAT ORGANS CAN BE DONATED?
- Small intestines
HOW MANY ORGANS ARE DONATED EACH YEAR?
Last year (2018) in Australia, 1544 people had an organ transplant from 554 deceased organ donors. This was possible because the families of the people who died generously decided to donate the organs of their loved ones to save the lives of other people.
Organ donation is very rare. Less than 2 per cent of people who die in hospital are able to become organ donors.
This is because organ donation is only possible in certain circumstances. The person needs to have been on “artificial ventilation” — a breathing machine — in the intensive care unit of a hospital when they died.
About 1500 Australians are currently on a waiting list for an organ transplant
CAN ANY OTHER BODY PARTS BE DONATED?
Yes. Various types of human tissues can also be donated, including heart valves and other heart tissue, bone, tendons, ligaments, skin and parts of the eye such as the cornea and sclera.
The biggest myths about organ donation
HOW DO PEOPLE BECOME ORGAN DONORS?
When a person dies in a situation where they could become an organ donor, the possibility of organ donation is raised with the person’s family.
Hospital staff also check the Australian Organ Donor Register to find out whether the deceased person had registered their decision about organ and tissue donation. (This decision can be a “yes” or “no”).
A large number of medical tests are also performed to see if the deceased person’s organs and tissues are suitable for donation.
In Australia, families are always asked to agree or “consent” to organ donation. That is why it is important for Australians to tell their families and loved ones whether or not they would like to be an organ donor, and to join the Australian Organ Donor Register. Anyone aged 16 or over can join the register.
If organ or tissue donation goes ahead, the organ donor’s body is always treated with dignity* and respect*.
Organ and tissue donation is anonymous* in Australia. This means that people who have a transplant do not know who the organ or tissues came from. Likewise, the family who agree to organ or tissue donation do not know who receives the transplant.
Donor families and transplant recipients can write anonymous, de-identified letters to each other through DonateLife and the hospital transplant units.
To find out more about organ donation or to join the Australian Organ Donor Register (if you are aged 16 or above), visit www.donatelife.gov.au
- ammonia: a colourless gas
- toxic: poisonous
- initially: at first
- genetic disorder: a disease caused by an abnormality in an individual’s genes
- enzyme: a substance produced by a living organism which acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction
- nitrogen: a colourless, odourless unreactive gas that forms about 78 per cent of the earth’s atmosphere
- transplant: move from one place to another
- grieving: feeling strong sadness
- recipient: someone who receives something
- dignity: importance and honour
- respect: have a high opinion of someone for what they do or how they act
- anonymous: name or identity is not known
- Name the new organ Michael Theobald needed to save his life.
- What are the two types of organ donation?
- List three types of organ that can be donated.
- How many organs were donated in Australia in 2018?
- How many Australians are currently on a waiting list for organ donation?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Letter to a hero’s family
Write an open letter to the families of organ donors, letting them know how their loved one’s “gift of life” has helped others. What would you say to them? Make sure you express your thoughts and feelings in a sensitive way.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Visit the DonateLife website www.donatelife.gov.au and choose one of the donation stories featured on the site. Read the story and write a brief summary of what happened. Come up with five words to describe how this story made you feel.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.
Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.
Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP
HAVE YOUR SAY: How did reading this story about Michael and organ donation make you feel?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.