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Call for more donors as need increases

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2013
Rachael Vink
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
SIMPLE PLEASURES: A small thing like having a cup of coffee would have required a lot of planning for Rachael Vink before her transplant.

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At 31, Rachael Vink is finally able to think about starting a family with her husband.

Having children would have been impossible for the Christchurch speech and language therapist before the kidney and pancreas transplant she had in Auckland last year.

"It will be more complex than most pregnancies but it is now an option we did not have before."

Vink was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12. Five years ago, her kidneys began to fail.

In 2010, she began nightly eight-and-a-half hour rounds of dialysis at her Burnham home.

"That was one of the things I found really hard to manage. It does shrink your social life and just your spontaneity."

A matching kidney and pancreas from a deceased donor were found in July 2012, and she underwent transplant surgery straight away.

"I don't think I knew how sick I was until I wasn't sick any more. I had more energy five days after surgery than I had had for the two years on dialysis."

She would have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, but said that was nothing compared to the daily insulin injections and nights on dialysis.

"It's changed my life. Actually, I'm really stoked just to be able to go to the supermarket, have dinner, have people around and not go to bed by 9 o'clock."

Now, Vink hopes others will think about organ donation.

"It's not the kind of thing you tend to discuss over the dinner table, but if your family knows what your wishes are you've got a huge power to change a person's life, and not just the person who receives the organ, but all the people around them as well."

***

A Christchurch doctor is calling for New Zealand to follow Australia's lead and improve our appalling deceased organ-donor rates.

New Zealand's rate is one of the lowest in the world, with less than 10 donors per million people.

Only a fraction of those in need are able to receive a kidney transplant. The rest will stay on dialysis for the rest of their lives.

"The [waiting] list currently offers a hope of a transplant but it's a very small hope," Christchurch Hospital nephrologist Nick Cross says. "It's a bit of a lottery."

With diabetes rates increasing dramatically and causing more people to suffer from kidney failure, the number of people needing a transplant will only get higher, but the annual number of deceased donors has been stuck around 40 for the last 10 years.

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The only way to get on top of the waiting list was to increase deceased organ-donor rates, Cross said.

In Australia, only 1 per cent of people who died in hospital were suitable to become organ donors. That number was not known for New Zealand, but Cross suspected it would be similar.

"Our system doesn't work well enough to identify [potential donors]."

He wanted to see funding made available for a dedicated worker in each hospital intensive care unit who could discuss organ donation options with families.

Australia and the United Kingdom already employed such people in their hospitals and the measure has been credited with increasing the UK's donation rate to more than 1200 people last year.

In Australia, an A$151 million investment from its Government in 2009 saw its organ donation rate jump 50 per cent in only three years.

Cross said the main barrier for organ donation in New Zealand was that people did not talk about it enough.

"At the moment the Government provides zero dollars for promotion of deceased organ donation. The process for people that donate is as good as it could be really but the problem is that people don't know about it."

Families were often shocked when they were asked if their loved one could become an organ donor.

"I'm not surprised that families say ‘it's too much, I can't deal with it'. But if we talk about it more . . . it's much more straightforward for the family to make that decision and we'd get more donors."

- The Press

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