health

Have the conversation today: Organ donation figures are dropping.

“Our beautiful girl started to decline and we knew the end was near. Then in the middle of the night with the rain pouring down that miracle phone call came, we have a donor kidney. I cried for the next two hours as we travelled the highway to Sydney. For the next 48 hours there was not much sleep, but lots of prayers. As each day passed we watched her come back to life.”

For Fran Armitage, the brave decision by a stricken family at the height of their grief in January 2013 to donate the organs of a loved one gave her daughter Talicia the gift of life.

Talicia’s was extremely fortunate. She was one of just 1122 Australians to benefit from the legacy of the 391 people who became organ donors that year.

One person’s gift gave Talicia a second chance.

As tiny as those figures are, 2013 was still the peak year for organ donations in Australia.

In 2009 when the former Labor Government established DonateLife to turn around Australia’s tragically low rate of organ donation there were just 247 Australians donating organs to 808 extremely fortunate patients.

Over the next four years donation rates grew almost 40 per cent but sadly, figures released just this month are a deeply concerning sign the growth in organ donations is slowing.

In 2014 the number of donors slipped to 378, and recipients to 1117, the first slide in both numbers in five years.

“Talicia was extremely fortunate. She was one of just 1122 Australians to benefit from the legacy of the 391 people who became organ donors that year.”

This will be distressing news for the 1500 patients currently on the transplant waiting list and comes as the Abbott Government attempts to merge the body responsible for improving access to life-transforming transplants, the Organ and Tissue Authority with the National Blood Authority, which looks after blood and plasma donations.

This is, to say the least, a short sighted move that can only distract the hard working staff at both organisations.

As the Senate Committee on Health found, “on the evidence the before the committee it is clear that a merger of the OTA and the NBA would result in minimal, if any, “savings”. The result is far more likely to put at risk the positive work done so far by the OTA, with the consequence that organ donation rates in Australia suffer.”

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Let us hope the sudden end to four years of strong growth in organ donations serves as a huge wake-up call that now is not the time for the Abbott Government to be going ahead with this merger.

READ MORE: Mia Freedman: “I gave Tony Abbott the benefit of the doubt on women. I was wrong.”

Because I know from experience as the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Donate Life, Australia cannot afford to lose an organisation devoted solely to the cause of increasing organ donation.

As the committee put it The decision to donate blood is a personal one and can be taken individually and acted on easily by the individual on a regular basis. Organ donation from a deceased person, while a personal choice, requires the consent of family.”

Having that conversation means so much to people like Fran and Talicia.

But that consent is much more likely to occur if the wishes of the deceased are already clear to those who have to deal with such a traumatic decision.

Organ donation should be a normal part of end of life care in Australia, but sadly, too many families have no idea that their loved ones wish to be organ donors, and are therefore not equipped to cope with making this decision at such a terrible time.

No one likes to contemplate death, especially those fit young people in the prime of life. But that conversation with your family could make things much easier if tragedy strikes, and means so much to people like Fran and Talicia.

So, have the conversation now. Ask and know your loved ones’ wishes and leave your family in no doubt about your desire to be an organ donor should tragedy strike.

Somewhere a family grieves for their loss and my heart goes out to them more times than they will ever know. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of them and their generosity, they are always in our heart. I hope they find some comfort in knowing our girl lives on because of them. Forever grateful! Donate Life!

Talicia and Fran have given permission for their story to be included in this article to encourage organ donation.

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