Dr Helen Opdam DonateLife Myth Busting Interview
Myth: It's better to just let my family decide at the time
Fact: If you want to become an organ or tissue donor – you need to tell your family.
A main reason families decline donation is because they simply don't know what their loved one wanted.
Families that have discussed and know each other's donation decisions almost always say -yes'.
Almost all donor families say that donation provided them with comfort in their loss and their decision was so much easier because they knew what their loved one wanted.
Myth: It's my choice – I don't need to discuss it with my family
Fact: Your family needs to know. They will be asked to confirm your decision.
Families play a crucial role in the donation process because they are asked to confirm the donation decision of their loved one.
The family will be involved in each step of the donation process and be asked to provide vital health information – even if you have registered your decision.
If you've decided to become a donor, you need to prepare your family so that they are comfortable being part of the process.
Myth: Organ and tissue donation is against my religion
Fact: Almost all religions support organ and tissue donation as an act of compassion and generosity.
Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism all support organ and tissue donation. Very few religions do not.
40% of Australians don't know if their religion supports organ and tissue donation, and 20% of families that declined donation in 2014 did so out of religious or cultural concerns.
Australians need to know that the organ and tissue donation process can accommodate religious and cultural end of life requirements.
Myth: I'm too old to be an organ and tissue donor
Fact: Age is not a barrier - people over 80 have become organ and tissue donors
The majority (79%) of Australians aged 65+ years are willing to donate organs and tissues, yet 41% assume they are too old to be considered for organ and tissue donation.
People in their 70's and 80s have saved the lives of others through organ and tissue donation.
Don't rule yourself out – count yourself in!
Each potential donor is assessed on an individual basis. There is every possibility you may be able to donate your organs or tissues.
Myth: I'm not healthy enough to donate because of my lifestyle choices
Fact: You don't have to be in perfect health. People who smoke, drink or don't have a healthy diet can still donate.
7 in 10 Australians wrongly believe you have to be very healthy to be an organ and tissue donor. This increases to 8 in 10 for young adults aged 18-29 years.
There's every chance that some of your organs and tissues may be suitable for donation. Don't rule yourself out – count yourself in!
The determining factors are where and how a person dies, and the condition of their organ and tissues.
Myth: Organ and tissue donation disfigures the body
Fact: Organ donation is specialised surgery and does not disfigure the body
Nearly 1 in 3 Australians fear that organ and tissue donation leaves the body mutilated and disfigured. This increases to nearly half of all young adults aged 18-29 years.
Organ and tissue retrieval is performed by highly skilled health professionals. The surgical incision made during the operation will be closed and covered as in any other operation and will not be visible beneath the person's clothes.
The donor's body is always treated with dignity and respect and the family can still have an open casket viewing if desired.
Myth: If I have registered as a donor, doctors won't try as hard to save my life
Fact: The doctor's first priority is always to save your life
20% of Australians fear that a doctor may not try as hard to save their life if they are registered as an organ or tissue donor. This increases to 35% for young adults aged 18-29 years.
Saving your life is the absolute priority of medical staff – health staff, doctors and nurses work incredibly hard to save people's lives.
Organ and tissue donation is only considered when it's absolutely clear that the person has died or that death is inevitable, at which time the Australian Organ Donor Register will be checked.
Myth: Enough people become donors so I don't need to think about it
Fact: Donation is a rare event – only 1% of hospital deaths allow for organ donation
Around 1,600 people are on transplant waiting lists at any one time. They are counting on every potential donor having decided and discussed that decision with their family.
One organ and tissue donor can transform and save the lives of many.
Fewer than 1% of people who die in hospital can become an organ donor. Most of these rare deaths are sudden and unexpected with the patient dying in a hospital Emergency Department or Intensive Care Unit on a ventilator.
To optimise every potential organ donation we need every Australian family to decide and discuss their donation decision with loved ones.
Myth: Enough people donate so that if I or a loved one ever needed a transplant, we could get one
Fact: Around 1,600 people are on transplant waiting lists at any one time. Sadly some die waiting for a transplant.
Most people who are unwilling to become a donor say this would change if they or a family member needed a transplant.
If we as a community expect to receive a transplant, then we as a community need to be prepared to donate.
Don't put off making your decision - decide and register your donation decision and discuss your decision with your loved ones today.
Video: Decided about organ and tissue donation?
Video: Mitchell's Sisters
Video: DonateLife…the greatest gift
For more information about organ and tissue donation visit www.donatelife.gov.au and follow DonateLife on Facebook and Twitter.
Interview with Dr Helen Opdam, Intensive Care Specialist and National Medical Director of the Organ and Tissue Authority
Dr Helen Opdam is the National Medical Director of the Organ and Tissue Authority, and Medical Director for DonateLife Victoria. She is a Senior Intensive Care Specialist at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne.
Helen has been involved in organ donation since 1998 and has a particular interest in determining the potential for organ donation through the audit of hospital deaths. She currently chairs the National DonateLife Data and Audit Working Group which oversees the national audit to detect potential donors. She is a member of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Death and Organ Donation Committee and is a Council Member of the International Society for Organ Donation and Procurement.
Question: Why is it important for you to bust these common myths and misconceptions that are holding Australians back from deciding about or discussing organ and tissue donation?
Dr Helen Opdam: There are around 1600 Australians on organ transplant waiting lists at any one time. For these people, the gift of organ donation will transform and save their life.
To help give these people the best chance of receiving a transplant, it's important that we optimise every potential donation opportunity.
We want to ensure that Australians are equipped with all the facts about organ and tissue donation to help them make an informed donation decision.
Research commissioned by the Organ and Tissue Authority has shown that when people understand the donation process, they are more likely to discuss their decision with their family, register as a donor and support their loved one's decision at the time of death.
By busting some of the most common myths about organ and tissue donation, hopefully we can encourage more Australians to understand the donation process and ultimately save more lives through organ and tissue donation for transplantation.
Question: What is organ and tissue donation?
Dr Helen Opdam: Organ and tissue donation involves removing organs and tissues from someone who has died (a donor) and transplanting them into someone who, in many cases, is very ill or dying (a recipient). Organ failure can arise from a sudden illness or injury, or chronic disease, or inherited conditions. Organs that can be transplanted include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestine and pancreas
Donation of skin, eye and bone tissue can also save lives and makes the difference between seeing and being blind, mobility and never walking again, or a speedy rather than protracted recovery from trauma, cancer or disease.
Your donation decision won't be enacted until after you've died, when your family will be asked to support your donation decision.
Question: Can you talk us through the organ and tissue donation process?
Dr Helen Opdam: For someone to be considered as a donor they need to die on a ventilator, in a hospital emergency department or intensive care unit. Donation is only ever considered after it is clear that the person has died or that death is inevitable.
The most common situation occurs when a person has severe and irrecoverable damage to the brain, such that the entire brain has died, and the person is declared dead. If they are on a ventilator with oxygen being pushed into their lungs and their heart still beating, their vital organs are in condition where they could benefit other people.
Other situations when donation is possible include when a person has a severe illness from which they are unable to recover. This could also be severe brain damage (although not complete death or the brain) or irreversible failure of other body systems. If the doctors and family agree that it is in the best interests of the person to have treatment stopped by removing life support, donation of organs may sometimes be possible after this has occurred and the heart has stopped. This is called donation after circulatory death.
Once it is clear that the person is dead or is going to die, the medical team will meet with the family to discuss organ and tissue donation and will check the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR) to see if the deceased person had registered their donation decision.
The retrieval of organs and tissue is the same as any other surgical procedure and is performed by skilled medical professionals with many years of experience.
Throughout all stages of the process both the donor and their family are treated with the utmost care and respect. As the donation process does not disfigure the body, and the surgical incision is fully closed and covered, a donor can still have an open casket if they or their family desire.
Question: Can you provide a case study where someone's organs and tissue was donated and how they saved another person's life?
Dr Helen Opdam: In my role as Senior Intensive Care Specialist at one of Victoria's largest hospitals, I've seen first hand how donated organs and tissue can save and transform lives. Donation is absolutely life changing, and often lifesaving.
I recall a young woman who developed severe liver failure late in her pregnancy as a result of an infection. Her baby was delivered early and was fine, but the only chance she had to survive and be a mother to her child was to receive an urgent liver transplant. She was very sick in the intensive care unit when a liver became available from someone who had died. Had she not received a transplant on that day, she would have died. That's several years ago and I've since seen her with her little boy and heard her tell her story including how grateful and lucky she feels as a result of the generous gift given by an anonymous stranger.
Question: Is it true that even if I register as an organ and tissue donor, my decision still needs to be confirmed by family when I die?
Dr Helen Opdam: Yes – in Australia, the family of every potential donor is asked to confirm the donation decision of their loved one before organ and tissue donation for transplantation can proceed. If you've decided to become a donor – even if you've registered on the Australian Organ Donor Register – you need to prepare your family so that they are comfortable being part of the process.
Question: Is this why it's so important to discuss your donation decision with family?
Dr Helen Opdam: Absolutely. We know that families who have discussed their donation decisions and know that their family member wanted to be a donor almost always say -yes' to donation, because they want to support the wishes of the person that they loved.
Families play a crucial role in the donation process. They are involved in each step of the donation process, and asked to provide vital health information regarding the potential donor.
Question: How is it best to bring our choices up with family?
Dr Helen Opdam: You could start by showing them this article! Mentioning something you saw in the newspaper or during a segment on television, or heard from a friend, can be a great way to start a conversation with your family about organ and tissue donation.
It's up to you how you start the discussion, the important thing is that you ask and know each other's donation decisions so that you can support those wishes should you ever need to.
DonateLife has produced some great resources to help you have the chat with your loved ones. They are available from donatelife.gov.au/discuss
Question: Does it matter at what age you sign up to be an organ and tissue donation?
Dr Helen Opdam: Anyone over the age of 18 can register their decision to be an organ and tissue donor with the Australian Organ Donor Register, and I would encourage all Australians who are interested in registering their decision to do it as soon as possible. From the age of 16, you can register an "intent" to be an organ and tissue donor" with the Australian Organ Donor Register.
Question: What type of lifestyle choices may exclude people from becoming organ and tissue donors?
Dr Helen Opdam: There are very few lifestyle and health factors that prevent you from becoming a donor. You don't need to be in perfect health – people who smoke, drink or don't have a healthy diet can still be donors.
The determining factors are where and how a person dies, and the condition of their organ and tissues.
Don't rule yourself out as a donor - count yourself in! There's every chance that some of your organs and tissues may be suitable for donation, and you could help to transform or save lives.
Interview by Brooke Hunter