Organ donation: Start the conversation

Last updated 13:30 17/06/2016

You may have ticked the donor box but the decision to donate organs will lie with your family.

Giving the gift of life through organ donation

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In light of the attention that deceased organ donation has had over the past few weeks, I would like to share my story.

My daughter Katie was born in November 2015. We knew before she was born that she was going to be a very sick baby.

The main problem was a condition called biliary atresia in which bile duct damage restricts the flow of bile out of the liver. A six hour operation failed to resolve the problem and the only solution was a liver transplant.

A few weeks before Easter, Katie’s liver function deteriorated rapidly and she was prepared for transplant urgently.

Weeks went by. Katie remained in Starship Children’s Hospital but no deceased donor liver became available for her despite the fact that at her age a blood-type match was not necessary.

The liver could come from anyone aged 18 to 60 but the 'plumbing' (blood vessels) had to be in the right position for it to be viable.

Not wanting to chance Katie’s fragile state any longer, my brother offered a piece of his liver as a living donor for his niece. Fortunately his liver was suitable and the transplant took place on April 13, 2016.

* How do you thank someone who saved your child's life? 
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Katie is now doing amazingly well. There is every reason to believe that she will lead a relatively normal, productive life. My brother's recovery is much slower but his liver should have regenerated to its original size within two months of the transplant.

It was very hard to watch him, a fit and healthy young man, go through an incredibly painful, traumatic and debilitating operation for the love of his niece.

Had a deceased donor liver been available for Katie, it would probably have come from someone who had sustained an irreversible, fatal brain injury, such as from a road accident or brain haemorrhage. Only hospital deaths can be considered for organ donation and only one per cent of hospital deaths occur in circumstances that make organ donation possible.

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Some of us will have ticked the donor box on our driver licence form but despite this, at the time of our death, the decision to donate our organs will lie with our family.

Through our journey we have met so many lovely families with very sick children waiting for organ transplants. New Zealand has relatively low rates of deceased organ donation compared to other developed countries.

Unfortunately, not all of the people waiting for deceased organs will get one.

So please start the conversation with your family, loved ones and friends about whether you, and/or they, wish to be an organ donor.

It is important to know that you can specify the organs and tissues that you wish to donate. An adult deceased donor liver can benefit two recipients - it can be split so that one larger section can be transplanted into an adult and the smaller segment given to a child - like Katie.

You can find more information at Organ Donation New Zealand.

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