Organ donation: Celebrating my gift of life

Organ transplantation saved little Lachlan Keller’s life. (Photo: Supplied)

For Hatch’s Lachlan Keller and his family, organ donation is more than just a casual conversation.

How often do you think about organ donation?

Once every couple of months, if ever? Maybe it’s mentioned in a television show that’s set in a hospital? Maybe you catch an ad somewhere during Organ Donation Awareness Week?

For my family and I, like many families around the country, organ donation is never far from our minds; it’s the reason I’m here, able to write this article right now as a healthy adult, over 28 years since I received a liver transplant when I was just 18 months old.

I obviously don’t remember much from that time, but my parents do.

How at only six weeks old, a passing observation from my mum’s GP that I looked “a little jaundice” started a years’ long path to full recovery.

How, following a diagnosis of biliary atresia – corruption of bile ducts in the liver – I was placed on the waiting list for a transplant at nine months old.

How for the next nine months, I was fed nightly through a nasogastric tube to keep me healthy enough for when the call came from the hospital saying they had a liver for me.

What it was like putting that tube back down the nose of a small child that had pulled it out in the middle of the night and didn’t understand.

How they felt when they finally received that call from the hospital.

“We were obviously eternally grateful, but of course there’s mixed emotions handing you over.” Kerry Keller, my mum, told me on the phone last week.

Cameron Keller, my dad, went on to explain: “There was a very good chance we wouldn’t get you back. There was a 25 per cent chance it wouldn’t work.”

The road to recovery was long, but now I’m able to live a mostly normal life. (Photo: Lachlan Keller)

Mixed emotions are an inescapable part of any transplant story of course. For anyone to receive the gift of life it means that someone, somewhere has had to make an incredibly tough decision at one of the hardest points in their life – just as they’re losing a loved one themselves.

John Lowe knows the pain of that decision.

He had been married to his wife Louise for seven years when she died in 2014.

They had discussed organ donation at various points throughout their relationship, so when doctors asked John if he knew if Louise wanted to donate her organs, he knew what her wishes were. By making that decision that day, in the midst of grief and loss, Louise was able to save multiple people’s lives.

“Because we had talked about it and I knew what her wishes were, it allowed me to get through it a little bit easier knowing that she was going to do some good,” John says.

He has continued to be involved with the donor community in Victoria, through the organisation Donate Life, as well as through events such as the annual Service of Remembrance, which commemorates the lives of donors and gives transplant recipients a chance to say thank you for what they have received.

“It wasn’t something I set out to do as part of the grieving process, but I’d say it’s no doubt had a positive impact on me,” he says.

Donate Life and the hospital where Louise was cared for were both very supportive. Personally, I have always received incredible care from doctors and nurses, throughout my initial procedure and in the more than two decades of post-op care, which continues to this day.

Organ donation rates are more than double what they were a decade ago, when the federal government launched a national campaign to boost organ and tissue donation, as can be seen in the graph below.

Organ donation and transplantation rates have more than doubled.

Currently Australia uses an ‘opt-in’ system for registering as an organ donor, which you can do online with your Medicare card, and takes less than one minute.

Figures show nine in 10 families in Australia consent to donation when they know their loved one was a registered organ donor. The figure drops to five in 10 when their wishes were unknown, and donation is never carried out without family consent.

Organ Donor Awareness Week ends on August 4. Visit www.donatelife.gov.au for more information on events for the campaign, organ donation in general, and of course to join the Australian Organ Donor Register.