Gift of life starts with conversation

Two Mount Gambier women at different stages of the transplant journey are raising awareness of the vital role that locals can play in saving lives by becoming organ and tissue donors. As Australia approaches 2021 DonateLife Week, Kimberley Telford and Danielle Horton, are more aware of the importance of organ and tissue donations than most Australians.

Ms Horton has been waiting for a kidney for more than a year, after a continued battle with renal failure that began in her 20s. At the time, she was diagnosed with scleroderma renal crisis by Professor Toby Coates, a renowned doctor in the field of renal transplantation at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, who visits Mount Gambier multiple times a year.

With a new kidney, Ms Horton would not have to undergo peritoneal dialysis treatment four times a day, seven days a week. However, her blood type, O-, has proven a barrier to receiving a new organ. Ms Horton has also been a bit unlucky: two donations have come her way but been unviable, indicating that being at the top of the list for transplants does not necessarily mean that you are next.

Ms Horton says she has “no idea” how long she will be waiting for a kidney but remains hopeful that a transplant is not too far away. “She now advocates for people to become organ and tissue donors. “There’s so many different things that stop the donation process going through,” Ms Horton told The SE Voice. “So it’s really important that people sign up to donate.”

Donors can register on the Organ and Tissue Authority’s Donor Register, which is run through the federal government, or alternatively, in South Australia, indicate on their driver’s license they are willing to donate. Kimberley Telford is on the other side of her transplant journey.

Nearly three years ago, Ms Telford, who hails from Mount Gambier, became South Australia’s first-ever patient to receive a combined kidney and pancreas transplant, after an operation to correct renal failure and diabetes. She is also the first patient in Australia to have received her double transplant without the use of steroids, which are well-known to cause diabetes, by transplant surgeon Dr Shantanu Bhattacharjya.

This came after Ms Telford was diagnosed with renal failure by Dr Coates. “Organ donation restores people,” Dr Coates told The SE Voice. “It gets them off dialysis, improves their quality of life, and saves money for the community.”

Dr Coates said South Australia continues to be the most generous state in Australia, in terms of organ donation. But alongside surgeons and specialists being dependant on donation, Dr Coates said they are also lucky to have people, like Ms Telford, who are willing to try new surgeries.

“We can all play our part by considering organ donation,” Dr Coates said. “And that’s why you need to have that conversation with your family so they know what your wishes are – so that if this awful situation of potentially being a donor ever happens, your wishes can be respected.”

Together, Ms Telford and Ms Horton are advocates for the cause – and for an opt-out policy – because they and others like them have been or will be on the receiving end of a life-saving donation. An initiative by the Australian government’s Organ and Tissue Authority, DonateLife Week 2021 will run from July 25 to August 1.

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