This week is Donate Life Week. It's the perfect opportunity to take a little time to decide whether you would like to be an organ donor. More importantly, it's the perfect opportunity to discuss your wishes with your family and friends, and sign up to the Australian Organ Donor Register via Medicare.
I was diagnosed with chronic lung disease more than twenty years ago when I was just a teenager. Ten years ago I was told that I would eventually need a lung transplant. I'm now connected to oxygen 24 hours per day, seven days per week. At home I have a large electrical machine called an oxygen concentrator that provides oxygen via ten metres of plastic tubing. When I leave the house I take along a portable bottle of oxygen on a trolley. I'm extremely restricted in what I can do and where I can go.
Last year, my name was added to the waiting list for a double lung transplant. I've only been waiting for a little over five months so far. The average wait for lungs is 18 months but for other organs the wait can be anywhere from six months to up to four years.
I often wonder about what it would be like to be able to breathe again. To be able to walk without stopping after ten metres, to ride a bike, to go for a run, to walk up a hill, to go shopping, to pick up my nephews. And even to mop my floors. There are so many tasks that I used to take for granted and now they're things that I can't do.
There are approximately 1600 other people just like me, all over Australia, waiting for the gift of a new organ to save or enhance their lives. Unfortunately, even though our donation rates have vastly improved, we are still lagging well behind other countries.
Barriers to donation
The 2011 donation statistics were recently released by the Australian and New Zealand Organ Donor Registry (ANZOD). There were 337 donors who helped to save or vastly improve the lives of 1001 extremely grateful recipients. The Australian donor rate for 2011 was 14.9 donors per million people.
The largest barrier to donation in Australia is still family consent. When a loved one passes away, it's such a sad time for the entire family, that up to 50 per cent of eligible donors do not have their organs donated. Their families do not give the final consent, even when they have previously registered as willing donors. This is why discussion with family and friends is so vitally important.
Have you discussed organ donation with your family and friends? Have you signed up to the national register?