Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Organ Donors Give the Magic of Life

This piece was published in the Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 18 October.

I encourage you to find out more information at - http://www.donatelife.gov.au/

A few months ago I had heart surgery to replace my aortic valve.

It was my second aortic valve replacement. A bout of rheumatic fever I had as a kid left me with a bung valve.

I always knew I'd need to replace it. My first transplant - which I had when I was a 35-year-old father of two - came with the proviso that the new organ would have a shelf life of about 18 years.

Sure enough, come August, nigh on 18 years later, I was watching Modern Family DVDs with a glass of wine - the nurse said it had to be a good red - all five of us piled on and around a narrow hospital bed in the cardiac ward of Brisbane's fantastic St Andrew's Hospital.

After the family went home that night and, ready for the early-morning surgery, I had some time to reflect on all the wonderful things I'd experienced since those brilliant doctors performed my first valve transplant.

For starters, less than a year later we had Marcus. He turns 18 in a fortnight. Our older kids, Nick and Jess, tease him relentlessly about being a cardiac baby, to which his response is usually to block his ears and scream. You may well be doing the same, so I'll move this along.

Therese's business started to soar. She had grown it from a little converted attic space in South Brisbane to one with a logo, inner-city offices, a hundred or so staff and more than 2000 clients who she had helped out of long-term unemployment into sustainable work. It was really something to watch. Still is.

We bought a house in Norman Park on Brisbane's southside. I remember thinking we'd never pay off the mortgage, one of those scary make-or-break moments in a young couple's life, but we did and it's still our home today.

I took a risk and left the stability of public service employment to run for the seat of Griffith in 1996. I lost. It was character building to say the least. It made me realise just how much I wanted to have a go in national political life and do something for the country. So I ran again in 1998 and got over the line.

After that, things sped up. We were trying to make it all balance - Therese's work, mine, kids at school, family friends, our parents - you know how it is.

Our best investment was a two-bedroom unit on the Sunshine Coast where I grew up. We'd go there for Easter, Christmas and the occasional long weekend. Afternoons of beach cricket, trays of mangoes and happy, tanned kids with salty hair. It was bliss.

Before long the kids were getting licences, walking down aisles and landing jobs. Our jobs were getting bigger too. Therese's company expanded overseas and I've had the great honour of serving in the Australian Parliament in many roles, all of which I've loved.

And I owe all of that to one person and their family. I don't know their name. I don't know if it's a man or a woman, old or young, a Queenslander or a Tasmanian, an accountant, a dairy farmer or a newsagent.

All I know is that their decision to become an organ donor, and their family's support, gave me so much more than a piece of tissue. It gave me a life.

Australia has one of the world's lowest organ donation rates. Last year, 931 lives were saved by 309 organ donors. Yes, that's only 309 people nationally.

It's because we still don't talk about it enough with our families and, even if you are on the organ donor register, your family can still decide against it once you're gone. In fact, 58 per cent of Australian families do not consent even when they know their loved one was on the register.

So I urge you to have a chat with your loved ones after dinner tonight. Believe me, I know it's hard and people have different views about it. But if you feel, as I do, that you would like to save lives once yours has ended, you must let your family know that's what you want and it's important for the whole family to sign up.

None of us wants to leave those precious to us with a burdensome decision in their hour of grief. If they don't know how you feel, they're more likely to opt against it.

Of course this is a deeply personal decision for you and your family but know that there is plenty of information out there about it. Our government has set up a new, clearer system and a website full of facts. There's even a guide on how to broach the discussion with your family if you need it.

Last year was the first time in the past decade that the number of organ donations had increased. Well done, Australia. Together we can make next year even better.

And finally, whoever you are, my family and I want to thank you and yours for 18 wonderful years of life.


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