BY GRANT REYNOLDS / Maribyrnong Weekly
AUSTRALIA – UNTIL three months ago, St Albans bricklayer Daniel Gluhak was as fit and healthy as any 30-year-old should be.
Now, he visits Western Hospital at Footscray every second day for four hours of renal dialysis.
“I went from being fit and strong to this,” he said. “Until November I was fine then I started throwing up and here I am, three months later. My whole life has changed. I had to stop work.
I was employing a few people and had to let them go to take care of myself for the time being.”
Daniel could be one of the lucky ones: his father is being tested for compatibility and could be a kidney donor. Otherwise he’ll join the 1600 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant.
According to the 2011 Donation and Transplantation Performance Report, released at Western Hospital last week, 1001 people received organ transplants in 2011, up from 931 the year before.
That equates to 14.9 donors per million people in 2011, up from 11.3 in 2009 when the $151million Donate Life campaign started.
It’s the first time the number of transplants has topped 1000 since the federal government committed $151million from 2009 to lift organ donation rates.
Parliamentary Secretary for Health Catherine King acknowledged there was still much work to be done. Australia still lags behind countries such as Spain, which is considered the benchmark for organ donation rates.
“When you are talking about a complex area of reform it’s going to take a while for this country to lift its rates. Certainly to be at 14.9 donors per million population is a good place to be, but I don’t want to put any gloss on it; we have a long way to go to lift our organ donation rates.”
Dr Helen Opdam, Victorian medical director of organ and tissue donation, said Victoria’s organ donation rate had doubled in recent years.
“Last year we had 107 generous Victorians willing to be donors, and that compares with rates of about 40 to 50 up until implementation of the new reform in 2008-09,” Dr Opdam said.
“Families are more aware of organ donation. People are letting each other know that they’re willing to be donors so that when, sadly, that person does die, it’s an easier decision for the family to make at a tragic time in their lives.
“There’s investment into the hospitals and into the whole so that we now have dedicated doctors and nurses in hospitals whose job it is to ensure that all the processes around organ and tissue donation are performed really well.
Dr Opdam said an “opt out” rather than the current “opt in” system was not the silver bullet to lift donation rates. “The experience of countries such as Spain is that that’s not what has resulted in an improvement in their donation rate.
“It’s been more the proper resourcing and organisation of the system, which is the approach that’s being taken in Australia and we believe that’s the correct approach.”
Despite the improvement, people like Daniel Gluhak will still have to have regular dialysis until a donor is found. “If you can become a donor it’ll make a big difference to someone. It could be any one of us who gets a kidney from someone who has passed away.”
Organ donations by the numbers – In Australia in 2011 there were:
■1001 transplant recipients
■1041 organs transplanted, including 570 kidneys, 213 livers, 223 hearts/lungs and 26 pancreases
■337 deceased organ donors