Organ donation is something many people across Australia know is important, but having the conversation about it with loved ones and families is still somewhat of a taboo topic.
For Sydney woman Phillippa Wright, she was forced to make a decision for her husband after he tragically died at the age of 57. Speaking to Starts at 60, Phillippa explained that she’d got a call from Westmead Hospital in Sydney one day informing her that her husband Robert had suffered a serious brain injury after falling over. Travelling from her home near Manly to the hospital, Phillippa was told her husband couldn’t be saved.
“By the time I got there, they said the bleed was too severe and they couldn’t do anything,” she explained. “When I got to the intensive care unit at Westmead, the doctor came out and said he saw Robert was a donor on his driver’s licence.”
Phillippa recalled having a conversation with Robert about organ donation long before his fall and having that conversation allowed her to easily make the decision when he died.
“Years ago now, there was an advertising campaign on television about organ donation,” she recalled. “Just the two of us were watching it and I just made a comment about it, because it was explaining all the organs you could donate.
“He turned around to me and said, ‘Look, if anything happens to me, I’m not here so whatever’s any use to anybody, I want to be used’.”
At the hospital when Robert was still alive, Phillippa was aware nothing could be done to save her husband. Doctors made him as comfortable as possible and conducted a series of tests over 24 hours that confirmed the damage to his brain was beyond repair. It wasn’t until he passed away that DonateLife reached out to Phillippa to organise the next steps for his donation.
“It was quite a relief in some ways,” she said. “People are asking you lots of questions from that point on and I didn’t have to refer or confer or discuss it or worry about it was the right thing or not. It was just instant.”
She admitted it was the direct conversation she’d had with her husband years earlier that made all the difference and said she would have felt concerned if she hadn’t spoken to him about his wishes. In the end, Robert was able to donate his lungs, both his kidneys and his heart.
“I was just so proud,” Phillippa said. “He was such a caring and humble man. It was so fitting I think.”
This Sunday is DonateLife Thank You Day, a national day that pays tribute to all Australians, like Robert and Phillippa, who make organ and tissue donation possible.
Last year, 1,675 Aussies received life-changing transplants because of 510 deceased and 273 living donors and their families, while 9,600 people received eye and tissue transplants.
“It doesn’t matter what age, where you’re from, it can happen to anybody,” Phillippa said. “It can happen for people to need a donation and happen that people pass away. Just trying to connect the two is an easy way to have a conversation.”
If you want to register as an organ donor, make sure you’ve added your details to the online national Donor Register. South Australia is the only state that allows organ donor preferences to be listed on driving licenses, so if you live in another state or territory, be sure to update your information online. Talking with family and loved ones about your wishes is also important.