DonateLife Week: register for organ donation

Portraits of staffer Samantha prior to the DonateLife service of remembrance 2019 at the Collingwood Town Hall. PICTURE : PENNY STEPHENS, Saturday 25TH MAY 2019

Victorian tissue and organ donation nurse Samantha Harriman is urging Australians to take one minute this week to register to become an organ donor.

DonateLife Week 2019 – a national awareness week dedicated to promoting organ and tissue donation – runs until this Sunday.

“For the time it takes your barista to make your coffee you could have registered to become an organ donor. People only have to jump online to register, it takes less than one minute and you only need your Medicare card,” says Samantha.

More than 1,400 Australians are on the waitlist for a lifesaving transplant at any one time and a further 11,000 on dialysis. In 2018, 1,782 lives were transformed due to the generosity of 554 deceased and 238 living organ donors and their families.

Donation Specialist Nursing Coordinator for DonateLife, Samantha is based at Eastern Health in Melbourne’s outer east. She works across three ICUs, at the Box Hill, Angliss and Maroondah hospitals, where she sees families of loved ones through the journey of organ donation.

“I am there from the start when families are having the end of life conversation; we step in and offer organ donation and often let them know if their loved one is on the register; that can be an amazing experience.

“Organ donation often provides comfort to families during the most horrible time. It gives comfort to know that a little piece of their loved one lives on and saves lives. There is nothing else we can do, we cannot change their grief but it gives the family a tiny sliver of comfort.”

At the end of June, there were 6,704,198 Australians registered on the Australian Organ Donor Registry, which averages out to 33% of the population.

“It’s not that people don’t want to be donors, the majority of Australians support organ and tissue donation. Generally those who are not registered do want to but haven’t got around to it yet, or are willing to donate but are unsure how to do it,” says Organ and Tissue Authority CEO Lucinda Barry.

Samantha says it’s about Australians making an informed decision and her role includes dispelling some of the myths about tissue and organ donation.

“A lot of myths aren’t true: myths such as someone is too old or not well enough. Donors are from all ages, all backgrounds and health conditions. People can be a donor from 28 days to 85 years of age. There is no religion that does not allow organ donation. Jehovah’s Witness’ can be an organ donor because it is classed as a bloodless transfer.”

Organ donor registration saves lives, says Samantha. DonateLife’s 2019 campaign is finding someone to be your “plus one”.

“If you’ve registered, it’s about finding someone who isn’t and asking them to be your “plus one”. If every registered donor found one person this week who wasn’t and encouraged them to, we could double the number of people on the register who could one day become donors.”

Samantha urges Australians to have the conversation about organ and tissue donation with their families today. Registering to become an organ and tissue donor has a direct influence on families saying yes to donation, with more than 90% of families proceeding when their loved one was registered.

“When they are told their loved one is on the register families often have this weight lifted from them: they are fulfilling their loved one’s wishes. They’ve already been making medical decisions, they are sleep deprived, haven’t been eating, are worried about kids or other loved ones at home, or work and are faced with another life changing decision.”

In 2018, there were about 160,000 deaths in Australia and only 550 were donors. It is “super rare” and a gift, says Samantha.

“For me it’s such a privilege to be part of so many families who are generous during such a difficult time. I always thought I did this job because of the transplant recipients but I now realise the reason I do this job is because of donor families – during the end of life of their loved ones they have some hope that something good can come from it.”

Register today at

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