Christmas is a time of joy, giving and charity; the New Year holiday is a time for celebrating life, for renewal and revitalisation. So, it is in this spirit that there is no time more fitting to raise the issue of organ donation.
Christmas is special for me, personally. It was this season for me three years ago, that threatened to be the last time I would be together with my family. Fortunately, I am still here because of the generosity of an organ donor, and now in this season, I get to celebrate these times in notable health and happiness.
As a double lung transplant recipient, I have my world back now, after so very nearly having it taken away from me due to cystic fibrosis – a condition I’ve had since birth. I am now able to study again, work, contribute to the community around me and enjoy my life, family and friends…living life to the full.
But others are not yet so fortunate. Some 1600 people are on the transplant waiting list in Australia at any given time.
As we gather with our families and friends around Christmas and the New Year, keep in mind that there is one person on this list each week that is taken away from their family before they are able to get their awaited transplant, no longer able to enjoy these occassions that we often take for granted.
As we celebrate in each other’s homes or at the park or the beach, remember those patients in hospital over this holiday, waiting for the one and only thing they want for Christmas – their life back. I’ve spent a few Christmases in hospital, and while the nursing staff make it as festive as they can, it’s just not the same as home. Spare a thought for these families, who eat their Christmas ham from a tupperware box and pretend their plastic cups are filled with blackcurrant juice when the doctors ask.
Thanks to work by DonateLife, donation rates are increasing – 2011 has been a successful year with an estimated total of 338 donors – certainly more than the 309 donors from 2010 and the 247 in 2009.
But despite having world-class transplantation success and a majority of us who are willing to be donors, Australia has one of the lowest organ and tissue donation rates in the developed world, at just 13.8 donors per million in the last full year compared to countries such as Spain, who have 34 donors per million.
It is because of these sobering facts, that we must all strive to do more to salvage organs from being needlessly wasted and use them to save lives of fellow Australians. These are my friends whose lives, average Australians like you have in your hands.
Just one donor can save the lives of up to 10 other people, and improve the lives of countless more. That’s exceptional by any measure, and for the people who receive the new organs and tissue, it’s even more – it’s utterly life-changing, taking us from complete desperation and darkness to hope and new life – the greatest gift of all.
Organ and tissue donors are a special group – special, but still far too rare. But there is still more to be done – much more – and everyone can play a part.
That is why I have been campaigning for a national approach to change to our system throughout the year, including at the People’s Parliament in NSW – suggestions including the scrapping of the drivers licence system of registration in different states to have Medicare’s Australian Organ Donor Register as the one central register in Australia; providing more funding for specialist organ donation staff in hospitals across the country; and most importantly, making an individual’s consent on the register the ultimate legal authority and taking the burden off families to remake this decision for the individual, especially in a time of such shock, grief and trauma.
2012 will continue this campaign to implement reform into our system –maximising our donation rates, and in particular, proactively tackling our significantly low family consent rates – all with the goal to see more desperately sick patients enjoy their next Christmas and New Year in health…and the next one, and the next one, and the next one.
In this rare time of the year where we stop our busy lives to celebrate with loved ones, we have a unique opportunity to discuss organ donation. Less than half of Australians are not sure of the donation wishes of their loved ones. With a simple conversation, we can change that – for my friends still waiting, whose lives, average Australians like you have in your hands to save.
Discover the facts, decide about organ and tissue donation and discuss your decision with your family. Be an organ donor and you could leave behind you the greatest legacy ever – you could be saving the lives of people like me, who wouldn’t be here looking forward to another year of happiness and health had it not been for that gift of a transplanted organ.
It’s something I treasure with every carol I can now sing (or attempt to sing!), every mouthful of Christmas feast I can now taste, every New Years firework I can now experience, every breath I can now take…and I am so so thankful.
In the spirit of giving and new beginnings, I encourage everyone to engage in this important conversation with the people close to you and register your consent today.
Give the gift of life so that others can have this magical second chance of life too. It costs very little to give, but it means everything to receive. So in the spirit of Christmas and a New Year, make sure you celebrate a lot and give a little too, to those who need it most.
Jessica Sparks is a passionate organ donation ambassador, after receiving a double lung transplant over two years ago. You can follow her on Twitter @_Jess_Sparks or @Sparking_Life