Tupou in hot water over donor tissue comment

JULIE ROBOTHAM
Last updated 19:24 20/07/2012
Anthony Tupou
UNFORTUNATE REMARKS: Anthony Tupou of the Sharks makes a line break.

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It was an unfortunate choice of words rather than deliberate offence, but it put the Cronulla Sharks player Anthony Tupou on the wrong side of medical groups concerned that his casual comment about the dead person whose achilles tendon has fixed Tupou's injured knee may discourage future donors.

Tupou, who had the tendon implanted to patch a ruptured cruciate ligament, told a reporter last week: ''My teammates are always joking and asking me if the bloke inside me is talking to me. If I don't play well, I'll just blame him.''

This week Tupou, the club and the National Rugby League have apologised to the Australasian Tissue & Biotherapeutics Forum, which represents tissue banks that store and distribute bone, tendons, skin and heart valves.

Anne Cowie, the group's chairwoman, said she wrote to the NRL last week after the comments were published on July 9, before Tupou's victorious return to the game following his surgery 14 weeks earlier.

''It's unfortunate that remarks like that get made,'' she said. ''I think it probably wouldn't help the [shortage of donated tissue]. It's very hurtful and very disrespectful.''

Ms Cowie said the comments might discourage people from allowing loved ones' bodies to be used for tendon grafts, which remain in short supply across Australia as tissue banks struggle for charity or government funding.

The grafts are growing in popularity among elite athletes. Rob Willis, a Sharks spokesman, said Tupou's teammates Nathan Stapleton and Nathan Gardner had both received cadaver grafts to the knee this season - Stapleton also an achilles tendon, while Gardner was implanted with a hamstring, which is expected to be stronger but requires more recovery time.

The aerial ski champion Alisa Camplin received a donor tendon in 2005, which was attached to a section of patella or kneebone.

Shane Mattiske, the ARL Commission's interim CEO, told Ms Cowie in a letter that Tupou was ''taken aback'' by the effect of his words. ''I do understand the serious impact it can have and I can assure you that Anthony will be significantly more mindful in the future,'' he wrote.

A spokeswoman said the Organ and Tissue Authority ''acknowledges the strong support that the National Rugby League has given to promoting organ and tissue donation this year and we encourage all to be mindful that organ and tissue transplantation is only made possible by the generosity of donor families who uphold the donation wishes of their family member''.

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