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  • Semeama is on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. (Supplied by family)Source: Supplied by family
Did you know that by donating your organs and tissues when you die, you could save or improve the life of at least ten people? With thousands of Australians being on transplant waiting lists or dialysis, it's important that more people become donors.
By
Audrey Bourget

26 Jul 2017 - 10:01 AM  UPDATED 26 Jul 2017 - 6:51 PM

While a majority of Australians say that they are willing to donate organs and tissues after their death, not all of them have taken the steps to make it happen. Dr Helen Opdam, the national medical director at the Organ and Tissue Authority, says becoming a donor is easy.

"Two things: Firstly, register as an organ donor on the Australian donor register. That's easier than ever. Now it can be done online. Go to www.donatelife.gov.au and there's a direct link, it only takes minutes. And the second thing is to let your family know, let those closest to you know that you want to be a donor."

Telling your loved ones about your decision is especially important because they are the ones who will have the last word when you die.

"The family is always part of the end of life care when someone dies in the hospital. And when donation is a possibility, we always ask the family to confirm someone's decision about donation. The hardest thing is if they don't know what their loved one wanted, more often than not, the family will end up declining donation, which is a real pity."

People often think it's a complicated process to become a donor.

"Currently, one in three Australians are on the Australian donor register. We'd like to see more people on the Australian Donor Register. Often, the main reason people haven't joined is that they haven't thought about it or they're too busy."

But taking that few minutes out of your day could mean saving or greatly improving somebody's life, like Semeama’s. Diagnosed with lupus when she was a teenager, she's now 31 and has to get dialysis treatments five times a week. Receiving a kidney transplant would change her life.

"I wouldn't be restricted to being at home all the time. I actually want to keep doing all the things that I love which is singing and performing and doing theatre shows. And also I want to get into some studying. I want to get into nursing actually because I'm always surrounded by everything medical-wise so I want to be able to help other people in that."

Semeama understands that planning what will happen after death can make some people feel uncomfortable, but she encourages everyone to think about all the good they'll do.

"Knowing that we can save other people's lives and one person can save up to ten lives, then I think what greater legacy to leave behind, to help someone else to live their life to their fullest potential."

It's important to note that doctors always try to save the life of a person first. It's only when it becomes clear that it's not an option that donation is ever considered. Australia is one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to organ donation. Dr Helen Opdam assures that the donation process is ethical and carefully planned.

"If there's agreement for donation, the whole process is done in a very careful way. The donation surgery is done by extremely skilled surgeons. The person is treated very respectfully, it's not disfiguring. The person can have an open-casket funeral after their donation. You know, many families get a great deal of comfort knowing that they've honoured the wish of the person that they love and that their loved one has helped other after their death.”

All major religions in Australia support organ donations.

"None of the major religions are against donation. In fact, all view donation as a compassionate act. You know, there are statements in most religious texts stating that, you know, that saving the life of another person is the greatest thing anyone can do."

The family of the donor won't know to whom the organs are going, and the recipients won't know who the donor is. However, Helen Opdams says there are ways to acknowledge the donation.

"Our laws in Australia, and in many countries, prohibit health professionals sharing personal information about the person who is donating to the people who have received the organs, but it's possible for family members of the donor and people who have received the transplant to send a letter of thanks to share what a difference it made in their life. That letter can be sent through the staff who works at the donation agency."

Take advantage of Donate Life Week, starting July 30th, to register to be an organ donor and have a chat with your family. And why not ask those around you to do the same?

"We really encourage people to share their donation decision through social media. They can use the hashtags #makeitcount and #donatelife to spread the words amongst their communities to really raise awareness and to get more people to be donors."

Useful links:

Organ and Tissue Authority where you can register to become a donor

Understanding the donation process

Multicultural resources and statements from religious leaders

Life Giving Stories 2017

Five myths about organ donation in Australia

AFL players to promote donating organs 

Insight episode on organ donation in Australia

Push for multicultural organ donation ahead of Australian Transplant Games

RELATED:
How to become an organ donor in Australia
By taking a few minutes to register to become an organ donor, you could improve or save the lives of up to ten different people.