A South Australian family will be the faces of a new public awareness program launched by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to improve the country’s poor organ and tissue donation rates.
The inspirational story of donor, mother and wife Julie Kennett will be used by the new Australian Organ and Tissue Authority as part of a multi-pronged assault on the country’s low donation rates.
The DonateLife Family public awareness program, backed up by a new workforce of medical specialists called the DonateLife Network, will empower Australians to discover the facts about organ and tissue donation, make an informed decision and discuss their wishes with their family.
The Prime Minister’s family has become the first DonateLife Family. A DonateLife Family is a family that has had a discussion and knows each other’s wishes about organ donation.
“We have made the decision to become a DonateLife Family because we know the importance of knowing each other’s wishes about organ donation,” the Prime Minister said.
“We can save many more Australian lives if we make sure families talk about the decision to donate life through organ and tissue donation. That is why today I invite all Australians to discuss organ donation and become a DonateLife Family.”
National Medical Director Dr Gerry O’Callaghan today urged families in South Australia to sign up online and become a DonateLife Family.
“Many Australians (40%) are not aware that even if they are registered as a donor, it is their family that will be asked to give consent for donation to take place,” Dr O’Callaghan said.
“35% of Australians have not discussed organ donation with their family or partner and we know that families who know their loved one’s wishes are highly likely to uphold them.”
State Medical Director Dr Sally Tideman said South Australia had 27 donors per million people.
“South Australian donation rates are the best in the country but Australia (national average 12 donors per million) is still lagging behind most countries in the Western World,” Dr Tideman said.
“So far this year across the nation, 189 generous organ donors have given a new chance at life for 608 Australians. Of these donors, 27 were from South Australia.
“A further 1700 Australians on official transplant waiting lists continue a difficult wait for a life-saving transplant (1718 at 6 October 2009).
“When families are approached only 56% consent to donation and we are determined to urgently improve this.”
The DonateLife Network is the cornerstone of the Rudd Government’s $151.1 million national reform agenda and is made up of more than 300 dedicated professionals, including 91 new FTE doctors and nurses at 75 hospitals across the nation. This includes 11 new doctors and nurses in six hospitals in South Australia.
“We’re seeking to improve consent on two fronts – firstly, by asking families to learn their loved ones wishes and secondly, through bolstering organ donation expertise in hospitals,” Dr Tideman said.
“Evidence shows family consent rates improve when the clinician talking to the family about donation is more experienced, informed and supportive of donation.
“Our new specialist workforce of highly trained doctors and nurses will be working to ensure donation is a routine part of end-of-life patient care and that every potential donor is identified and their families asked about donation in a sensitive and respectful way.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Authority Karen Murphy said this is the first time that Australia has had a nationally coordinated and consistent network of agencies.
“We want every Australian to discover the facts about organ donation, to decide through informed choice to become an organ donor and to discuss with family and friends so that they know each other’s wishes,” said Ms Murphy.
“We are improving our support for families in hospitals to help them make the decision that is right for them.
“We are also encouraging Australians to have the discussion about donation well before any opportunity to donate should arise, so they are better prepared and can make the call to donate with confidence.”
South Australia’s Kennett family will play a key role in the awareness program. Their story is about mum and wife Julie who donated after a battle with cancer.
Husband Rob Kennett said despite her illness, Julie remained determined that she wanted to help others.
“We knew reasonably early that due to the chemo, her organs would not be of any use. However she was still anxious for me to investigate whether there was any prospect of donation,” he said.
After discussions with their doctor, Rob spoke to the Eye Bank of South Australia about the donation of Julie’s corneas.
Rob believes many people do not realise that both organs and tissue can now be donated and that this should be promoted more vigorously.
“Julie’s corneas gave the gift of sight to two recipients. Her right cornea was given to a man in his 30s and the left cornea to a man in his 60s with Fuch’s Dystrophy (form of eye disease),” he said.
Dr O’Callaghan said stories like Julie’s are all too few at the moment and the Authority is determined to help as many people as possible.
“Increasing the number of organ donors will help make transplantation possible for more seriously ill Australians. This now requires a public commitment because transplantation is touching the lives of more and more Australians,” he said.
To support Australians in having this important discussion, the new DonateLife website www.donatelife.gov.au features a section that provides supporting materials for family discussion, including a downloadable DonateLife Family certificate.
The certificate can be used to keep a record of each other’s wishes. It is not a legal document; it is a simple way to help people to remember the decisions of loved ones.
Please note: Photos/vision and interviews about the DonateLife Family public awareness programof the DonateLife Network in action are available upon request.Interviews with families affected as well as with the State Medical Director are also available.For media resources and more information about organ and tissue donation and to become a DonateLife Family visit www.donatelife.gov.au
Media contacts:Name: Shaun Rigby
Ph: 07 3251 8140
Mobile: 0438 021 936