Organ donation fell about 25 per cent in Australia during the Covid pandemic, dropping for the first time since the national transplant* program was established in 2009.
The nation’s organ transplant waitlist also grew to a 10-year high of more than 1900 people in December, according to OrganMatch. It currently sits at about 1750.
During DonateLife Week this week, officials are encouraging the 13 million Australians aged 16-plus who are eligible to register as organ and tissue donors, but haven’t, to take one minute to sign up and save lives.
Younger Aussies do have a role to play – they can sit down with their families and have the difficult but important conversation about giving a precious gift at the end of their lives.
Only four out of 10 families agree to donate a loved one’s organs after they die if they don’t know their wishes, according to Organ and Tissue Authority chief executive Lucinda Barry.
“(But) we know nine out of 10 times, a family will say yes to donation if their loved one is a registered donor,” she said.
“It’s so important people talk to their family about donation and tell them they want to be a donor. It will be their family who makes the decision in the hospital.”
One organ donor can save up to seven lives, and help many more through eye and tissue donation.
Anyone aged 16 and above can register.
“You’re never too old, you’re never too unhealthy,” Ms Barry said.
Registering only takes one minute and can be done via donatelife.gov.au, the Medicare app or the MyGov website. To register at donatelife.gov.au, people just need to fill out a simple form with their name, date of birth, postcode and Medicare details.
“An organ transplant is absolutely life-enhancing*, life-changing and for many, life-saving,” Ms Barry said.
“For people on the waitlist who need a transplant, they need more Australians to register to be an organ donor at the end of their life.”
Read on for the stories of three Aussies who received organ transplants as kids.
Mum’s loving gift lifesaving for Alexis
Alexis Cherry came into the world fighting for life.
But after receiving a kidney transplant at age three, the 11-year-old is loving life.
“(Medical staff) said she wasn’t going to survive,” mum Christine Cherry said.
“It was very confronting*. She was on all these different machines. Her tummy was massive, full of these kidneys that weren’t functioning, but her lungs were the main concern.”
Alexis has a rare genetic* disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts* to develop in kidneys in utero.*
Mrs Cherry said doctors were unsure if Alexis would make it through life-saving surgery to remove the kidneys – but she did.
Alexis’ first birthday was a major milestone for her family. Not long after her third, she received a new kidney – thanks to her mum.
Alexis was on the deceased donor waitlist, but her health was declining so Mrs Cherry offered up her own kidney.
It wasn’t a complete match, but the Melbourne mum’s loving donation allowed them to participate in the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange Program, which has since expanded to include New Zealand.
Alexis received a better-suited donor’s kidney, and another recipient got Mrs Cherry’s organ.
Alexis is now in grade 4 and will likely need another kidney in about 10 years.
Transplant gives Chloe hope of a normal life
The seven days Chloe Loo-Tandiyono spent on the liver transplant waiting list at just eight-months-old felt like “a lifetime” for her parents.
“Knowing she was getting worse in front of you, and knowing if there was no donor, the alternative was death – we were just praying the call could come,” mum Valencia Tandiyono said.
At five-weeks-old, Chloe was diagnosed with a rare liver disease that occurs in infants.
Ms Tandiyono and partner Aaron Loo were “devastated” and “shocked”.
By the time Chloe was put on the waiting list, her stomach had blown out to 60cm in diameter.
When the Melbourne couple learned a new liver had been found for Chloe, they broke out in “cries of joy”.
“It was a new hope she could have a normal life,” Ms Tandiyono said.
Almost five years later, Chloe is living just that. She loves singing, dancing, drawing and playing with friends at school, is always talking, and is a proud big sister to Nathan, 21 months.
Australia’s first liver transplant child now at her healthiest
If Rhonda Natera could meet the organ donors who saved her life twice, she imagines she would be “lost for words”.
Aged two, the 39-year-old Brisbane mum was the first child to get a liver transplant in Australia in 1984.
By 2012, Ms Natera’s transplanted liver had to be replaced and she also needed a new kidney.
This led to a marathon 26-hour surgery and 11 further operations. She then had to learn how to walk and talk again after six months in hospital.
“But I’m good now,” she said. “I’m healthy, I’m doing everything normal people do – and a lot of things I couldn’t do before, (like) signing up to a gym.”
Ms Natera was born in Papua New Guinea with a condition in infants that scars and blocks the liver’s bile ducts.
Her parents, Edward and Brenda, flew her to Brisbane to see specialists who told them “there was nothing they could do, and that had I had two to three months to live, maybe six”.
“They weren’t doing transplants in Australia,” she said.
“I survived past what they said I would and about two years later, my parents got the call saying they were trialling transplants in Brisbane and I would be their guinea pig.”
She has now spoken to her own children – Maleque, 21, Kyzark, 15, and Leyhina, 8 – about the importance of taking the 60 seconds required to register as an organ and tissue donor, and urged others to do the same.
“They wouldn’t have me if my donors’ families didn’t give me their organs,” she said.
- transplant: operation in which an organ or tissue from one part of a person’s body is moved to another part, or when an organ or tissue from one person is moved to someone else’s body
- enhancing: improving the quality of something, an increasing amount for the better
- confronting: creating strong or difficult feelings
- genetic: relating to genes, heredity, inherited DNA of animals or plants
- cyst: closed, sac-like pocket of tissue in the body, filled with fluid, air, pus or other
- in utero: in a woman’s uterus before birth
- By what percentage did organ donation fall during the Covid pandemic?
- How many people are current on the organ transplant waitlist?
- How many Australians are eligible to register as organ donors but haven’t?
- What age do you have to be to register as an organ donor?
- What part can young Aussies play during DonateLife Week?
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1. Organ donation pledge
You can have to be over 16 years of age to officially register your wish to donate your organs to someone else if you have suddenly pass away. It’s a terrible time for every family that experiences this kind of tragedy, hence the Organ Donor Registry wanting families to discuss it while everyone is happy and well.
Talk to a friend about whether you’d like to donate your organs at the end of your life. Be open and honest about why you may or may not want to donate. Take a few minutes to reflect on this yourself.
Create a small card on coloured paper stating whether you want, or don’t want, to donate your organs at the end of your life. Write your reasons why underneath.
Take this home to your family and discuss it over dinner or another appropriate time. Ask other family members about their wishes.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social; Ethical, Critical and Creative Thinking
What experience have you had with organ donation or transplants? If you needed a transplant in the future to save your life, what would you say to others to encourage them to be an organ donor? Think of a slogan to advertise and encourage organ donation.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking
Imagine you were there during the event being discussed in the article, or for the interview.
Create a conversation between two characters from the article – you may need or want to include yourself as one of the characters. Don’t forget to try to use facts and details from the article to help make your dialogue as realistic as possible.
Go through your writing and highlight any punctuation you have used in green. Make sure you carefully check the punctuation used for the dialogue and ensure you have opened and closed the speaking in the correct places.