Organ donation has hit a record high this year with more than 500 people offering body parts to save lives this year.
Ten-year-old Harry Irvine is active and healthy – he loves running triathlons and helping his father Brendan at work.
But this was not always the case. Harry was born with a Sacrococcygeal teratoma – a tumour most commonly found in newborns that hindered the development of his kidneys.
After several tests, it was found that while his father was not a perfect match, he could become Harry’s donor.
“It’s hard, there’s no doubt about that, but the feeling afterwards is indescribable,” Mr Irvine told SBS News.
“It’s the biggest gift you can give, it is giving life.”
According to the latest national figures from the Australian and New Zealand Organ Donation Registry, more than 500 Australians donated their organs in 2018 – and on average, each donation saved three lives.
Dr Amanda Mather is a renal physician at the Royal North Shore Hospital, and she believes a lack of awareness is still a major problem for patients in need of organs.
“I don’t think that people appreciate how much of a difference it makes to people’s lives,” she said.
“If they did, they’d probably have those conversations earlier, and make sure their families know how they feel.”
The waiting list for some organs can be years – a new kidney was the most in-demand organ for recipients, following by lungs, liver, heart, and pancreas.
CEO of Donate Life, the peak organ donation body, Lucinda Barry, said advancements in technology and surgical skills mean that only a small proportion of donated organs go unused for medical reasons.
But she believes there is still much room for improvement. Australia lags behind in global organ donation ranking 17th in the world.
“We know about 70 per cent of Australians say they are willing to become a donor, but only around 30 per cent put themselves on the register,” she said.
Boosting the number of registered donors is something that will take a cross-cultural approach, according to Dr Neera Bhatia from Deakin University.
The law lecturer has focused her research on end-of-life decision making, including organ donation and the ethical dilemmas that may arise.
“Different cultural norms, beliefs and values need to be respected, but we need to work with the elders in those communities and younger generations too,” she said.
“We need to ask ourselves, how do we dispel any myths or fears, that those communities may have, including our Indigenous communities, and that’s going to be a generational issue.”
For further information go to the official Donate Life site.