A LIVELY child plays peek-a-boo with her twin sister around the soft drinks machine in the foyer of Lismore Base Hospital. They're five years old ... they run, bounce and giggle. It's a sweet, infectious energy.
One of these dear little children wouldn't be alive today without the donation of a liver when she was just eight months old. As her sister Katrina looks on, Sarah pulls her top up and shows me the neat seam across her tummy.
Two weeks after Sarah Carroll was born, she was diagnosed with a hepatoblastoma - cancer of the liver. When this occurs in children, the first treatment is a course of chemotherapy.
"That started when she was three weeks old and went on for seven months," her mum Nena Carroll said.
"By then, doctors had realised the chemo wasn't doing what it was meant to do."
Nena said Kerrie Beale, the transplant co-ordinator at the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane, told her Sarah needed a liver transplant, which meant stopping her chemotherapy before the operation.
"When a liver became available three weeks later, her blood wasn't yet right, so she couldn't have it. By then she was on the high-risk list because we'd stopped the chemo. But within two weeks another transplant became available, and it was successful," she said.
Nena recalled how the operation took all day, while she waited anxiously with her mum and nurse Beale. Specialist surgeons were flown in from Japan to perform the delicate task. At last she was called over to the hospital, but then there was another wait. Nurse Kerrie disappeared, saying she had to get a can of soft drink. In reality, baby Sarah's heart had stopped on the operating table. She was being resuscitated.
"I didn't find that out till later," Nena said. "The next Christmas, I gave Kerrie a little Coke bottle charm for her bracelet."
This week is Donate Life week. Intensive care specialist Dr Michael Lindley-Jones is the director of organ and tissue donation for the Northern Rivers.
"We can see the outcome of a liver transplant that gave an eight-months-old girl a new lease of life," Dr Lindley-Jones said.
"What we want people to do in Donate Life week is simply have a conversation within their families, and make their feelings clear about being an organ donor.
"Only one per cent of people die in such a way as to make organ donation possible, so each donor is incredibly valuable. "Families who have agreed to their loved ones becoming a donor, in the midst of the tragedy of losing a person they love, always feel afterwards that some good came out of their misfortune, because somebody else got another chance at life.
"For people to tell their families and even write down their intention is an incredibly powerful thing to do. People under 18 can let their families know how they feel, too."
To opt in to organ donation, willing donors can register at any Medicare office, or go to donatelife.gov.au.
Organ donation in Australia
There are 14.9 per million donors in Australia (program started 2009).
In Spain, the rate is 35 per million (program started 1980).
In the Tweed / Lismore area, the rate is 18 per million - above the national rate.
Transplants only occur when there is no hope of the donor living.
The donor has to be officially dead.
The only "living" transplants are kidney transplants.
36% of these are from living donors, often relatives or friends, whose kidneys are in top condition.
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