The Federal Assistant Minister for Health Senator Fiona Nash recently announced that Australian organ donation rates were at record highs. The number of transplant recipients has increased 39 per cent since 2009. One of those recipients was Victorian Daryl Walker who had a liver transplant in 2011.
A long wait
Daryl had known for a long time that he would eventually need a liver transplant. In 1991 he was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease primary sclerosing cholangitis. It is a common cause of liver failure. He was told he would eventually need a transplant or a wooden box. For 19 years he avoided both with regular liver cleaning procedures.
In 2010 blood tests revealed the procedures were no longer working. He needed a transplant. At the start of 2011 he passed a pre-medical assessment and was placed on a transplant waiting list. Daryl then had to stay within two hours drive of the Austin hospital in Melbourne in case a liver became available.
Daryl says he was relatively mentally and physically healthy. He was gaunt and his skin was yellow. He had also developed insulin dependent diabetes due to the many medications he was taking for his liver. But he still played basketball. To make life easier, he changed from a physical outdoor job as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer to an office job as a Boeing 737 Fleet Technical Specialist.
A few months later a transplant co-ordinator contacted Daryl with the news that a possibly suitable liver had become available. Daryl went to the hospital, only to find the liver was not suitable. This happened three times. He reckons he has the record for the number of dummy runs.
Social workers worried the false calls might affect him mentally but Daryl said he was okay. He thought the families of the donors who had died were more in need of social worker care than he was.
In October 2011 he was called into the hospital once more. This time the liver was suitable and a transplant went ahead. But once in place, the new liver did not work properly. Surgeons removed the liver and tried to repair it but it still did not work.
So Daryl was moved into intensive care and an urgent call for another liver was issued. While waiting his kidneys started to fail and so he had kidney dialysis. Fortunately nine days later another liver became available and was successfully transplanted.
Liver transplant patients are normally out of hospital within seven to ten days, but Daryl spent five weeks in hospital. To complicate his recovery, he developed shingles and was moved to an isolation ward for a week. His kidneys recovered but with the loss of some of their function. And he no longer had diabetes. He returned to work two-and-a-half months after the initial operation.
A week after he returned to work he found out his whole department was moving to Sydney. So he returned to his preferred physical outdoor job as an aircraft engineer. He has not had a day off work sick since March 2012.
Life for him is pretty much back to normal. He recently celebrated his birthday with one of his great loves, parachuting. But he still is not playing basketball as he needs an operation to fix his stomach muscles damaged from the operations. He takes anti-rejection tablets twice daily, and probably will for the rest of his life.
According to Senator Nash, “in 2013, 1122 Australians received a second chance at life because of the generosity of 391 organ donor and their families”. She says that one of the reasons for the low number of organ donors is that only about one per cent of people “die under the specific circumstances in hospital where organ donation is possible”.
Daryl has no idea who donated his liver; donor names are confidential. But he is very thankful to them and their family for allowing the donation to go ahead.
Donate Life week
Donate Life week runs from Sunday 23 February to Sunday 2 March. For more information about organ donation, including how to register, visit www.donatelife.gov.au.