The Hobart

Call Out: Donate Yourself

by Lily Whiting
Call Out: Donate Yourself

Every year in every country 13 August is dedicated to raising awareness about signing up as an organ donor. In 2021, 1,174 Aussie lives were saved through organ transplants from the generosity of 421 deceased organ donors and their families. We spoke to Medical Director for DonateLife Tasmania, Andrew Turner about the donation process locally for Tasmanians.

There are currently 222,509 Tasmanians signed up to donate their organs, how does this compare to the rest of the country? Tasmanians are very supportive when it comes to registering as a donor, with about 50% of the population (16 and over) currently registered. This is the second highest rate in the country and well above the national average of 36%. It’s really important everyone in our community registers as a donor, because right now in Australia there are 13 million people aged 16 and over who are eligible to register as organ and tissue donors – but haven’t.

How many of those people registered as donors will have the right circum­stances to enable donation to happen? Sadly, less than 2% of people who die in hospital meet the clinical criteria where donation is able to proceed. The more people that are registered, the more people are prepared for the unexpected and rare opportunity to donate their organs. We shouldn’t forget that discuss­ing organ and tissue donation comes at an intensely emotional time for families – usually when faced with the unexpected death of their loved one.

How does the transplant process differ for Tasmanians giving and receiving compared to other states? Organ and tissue donation is coordinated at any of Tasmania’s three major hospitals in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie. Tasmania does not have any transplant units, so transplantation of donated organs occurs at interstate transplant units, mainly because they are located in the larger population centers. If an organ donation retrieval is to happen in Tasmania, the transplant teams will travel here to assess viability, and then travel with the organs back to their transplant units interstate to coordinate the surgery. It’s a very complex process when you consider timing is critical, and logistics might require the organs from a single donor to be transplanted to multiple patients, sometimes in different cities or states. Our isolation as an island state is not a barrier when a Tasmanian is waiting for a transplant and an option for a trans­plant becomes available. It just requires carefully coordinated logistics to fly to an interstate transplant unit.

What are the barriers to a successful transplant, and will the recipient go back on the list if it doesn’t work? Incredible planning and care is under­taken to ensure donated organs have the best opportunity to be successfully trans­planted, from the moment the first tests to identify organ suitability, through to the final transplant surgery for waiting recip­ients. Receiving an organ transplant is the greatest gift anyone can receive, and for most people a transplant can be life changing, for some even lifesaving. Sadly for a small number of people, a transplant does not always guarantee success despite the best efforts of everyone involved. The reasons for this vary from person to person, but can involve unexpected findings by the transplant team just prior to surgery, or changes in the stability of the patient during and after transplanta­tion. Fortunately in Australia we have some of the best transplant outcomes in the world.

What changes most when families don’t know if their loved one was a donor? When donation is possible, it helps families to know what their loved one wanted. Across Australia, 9 in 10 families say yes to donation when their loved one was a registered donor. This number is halved when a person is not registered and has not shared their wishes with their family.

Do recipients and donors ever connect? Sometimes donor families like to contact the person who received their loved one’s organs or tissues, and some­times transplant recipients would like to thank the family of their donor. Donor families and those who have received a transplant can write anonymous letters to each other, facilitated by the donation program. The decision to write is a very personal one. It may take some time before a donor family or recipient is ready to send and/or receive a letter, some people may choose not to write.

How can Tasmanians sign up as an organ donor? Any Australian aged 16 and over can sign up online at donatelife. gov.au, regardless of medical history, lifestyle, country of birth or how healthy you are. It only takes a minute and only requires contact details and your medicare card number. Sign-up can also be done through the Express Plus Medicare app, via myGov or online at Service Australia, or go old school with a printed form from your Service Australia office. Anyone who did register via the phased out driver’s license register is still on the Australian Organ Donor Register but we always suggest people check their donation status.

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July 2024

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