> Organ transplant patients praise ‘hero’ donors, as DonateLife Week seeks more registrations

Organ transplant patients praise ‘hero’ donors, as DonateLife Week seeks more registrations

A few short years ago, John Hammond was lying in a Brisbane Hospital saying a tearful goodbye to his loved ones. 

It was 2019 and he was dying from early-onset liver failure.

After a visit from the bedside priest and completion of end-of-life paperwork, the then 49-year-old, from Gindie in central Queensland, was expecting to farewell his wife and son forever.

Until an organ donor saved his life, with the gift of a new liver.

“Not everybody gets a second chance, and us transplant recipients, we do get that opportunity,” Mr Hammond said.

“It really, really is a gift that people register to be an organ donor so that they can help people like me … to get a second chance at life.

“You just grab it with both hands and run with it.”

A man in a hospital bed with tubes and bandages attached to him.
John Hammond was saying his final goodbyes in hospital when his life was saved thanks to an organ donor.(Supplied)

At 51, Mr Hammond is once again on a waiting list, this time for a double lung transplant.

He has a rare hereditary condition of the liver and lungs called Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD).

“Everything’s a struggle, from sort of walking to showering to really just doing everyday, day-to-day tasks. It’s hard work,” he said.

It is rare that someone needs an organ donor twice in their lifetime and Mr Hammond is holding on to hope he’ll be given a third chance at life.

This DonateLife Week, he is urging all Australians to take the chance to be a hero in death and register to be an organ donor.

“During life … you don’t get to be a hero, as we like to imagine in dreams or whatever, but when you pass you’ve got this opportunity to make an enormous difference to someone who’s clinging to life on the transplant list, to give someone a second chance,” he said.

“Whether it be a five-year-old child or a 50-year-old man like myself, we all want to live.

“That’s why it’s just so important to please register on the organ donation list.”

Lasting legacy

For Thomas Gardiner, whose mother died from a brain aneurysm when he was just four years old, grief is a constant companion. But he takes comfort in one thing.

Belinda Gardiner donated her organs, saving the lives of five people and giving sight to another two.

“It’s really hard for our family sometimes to talk about mum,” Mr Gardiner said.

“But the offshoot is the legacy that she left behind … being able to save some lives, and that’s just a reflection of her.”

A man with red hair and a beard stands on a footpath, holding a photo of a woman.
Thomas Gardiner’s mother Belinda saved the lives of five people and gave sight to another two as an organ donor.(ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)

Two people received Belinda’s kidneys, two more people received her liver and another two received her eye tissue.

A six-year-old boy received part of Belinda’s liver, and he has written to the family every year on the anniversary of Belinda’s death.

“It’s been really sort of empowering to see how he’s been getting on with his life,” Mr Gardiner said.

“He’s established a great career for himself, he’s started his own family. And it’s probably even more sort of personal because he was around my age … when he received part of mum’s liver.

Mr Gardiner and his family are proud advocates for organ donation and hope to see more people register.

“It takes a couple of minutes to register … you just never know what impact that decision could have,” he said.

“Obviously, you hope your family is not put in that situation … but it could have a lasting impact on somebody else’s life in the most positive way.”

Organ donation ‘bittersweet’

There are 1,750 Australians on the waitlist for an organ transplant, while about 36 per cent of eligible Australians are registered as donors.

In Queensland, the percentage of registered donors is lower, sitting about 30 per cent.

A woman with glasses and brown hair stands on a footpath with green trees behind her and smiles at the camera.
Josephine Reoch works with families through the process of donation.(ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)

Central Queensland organ donor specialist nurse Josephine Reoch works with families through the process of organ donation.

She said it was a bittersweet process that left a lasting legacy.

“I haven’t met a recipient yet who doesn’t keep their donor, and the donor family, in their minds always,” she said.

“People go on to have families of their own, so sometimes it can be 100 generations that exist because of that one person making a decision to help others after they’re gone.”

She said it was hoped 100,000 more people would add their names to the organ donor registry this DonateLife Week.

“I know when I sit with a family and offer donation to them at the end of their loved one’s life, it makes it a lot clearer for them to make a decision or confirm the wishes of their loved ones when they know what it is,” she said.

“So being on the register gives your family that surety that they are confirming what you want.”

One organ can save up to seven lives and help many more through eye and tissue donation.

DonateLife Week runs nationally from Sunday, July 24 to Sunday, July 31.

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