SAVING LIVES, ONE DONOR AT A TIME
PROFESSIONALS SUPPORT THE DONOR’S FAMILY
“When our beautiful Zoe was born, I don’t think Adam could have been more smitten,” Lee, a psychologist, said. “He couldn’t take his eyes off her – it was true love at first sight. “They’d go to the park so I could have a break. “They had a really lovely time over there. “He was a very hands-on dad and he loved being a father.” As Adam’s grief-stricken family was coming to terms with losing their “great guy”, his medical team asked the hospital’s organ donation co-ordinator to check whether he was on the Australian Organ Donor Register. Not only was Adam’s name on the register, he had spoken many times to Lee about his wishes, often saying that taking one’s organs to the grave was a “waste”. “It was an incredibly difficult time because we had just found out he was not going to recover and that he was going to die,” Lee said, remembering the moment a donation co-ordinator and Adam’s doctors broached the subject. “As soon as they brought donation up, we went ‘Yes, absolutely’. “We just wanted to make something good come out of this really horrible situation.” Lee said the medical professionals were extremely supportive, with their empathy and candour making the situation better than she could have hoped. “It was a very beautiful process,” Lee said. One day after he collapsed, Adam’s heart was carefully placed into the chest of one man and another bloke received Adam’s lungs. One half of Adam’s liver was given to a young child and the other half – along with one of his kidneys – was gifted to a woman. Adam’s pancreas and remaining kidney were donated to another woman. “Adam was always so generous,” Lee said. “It is no surprise that he gave these five people a second chance at life.” Four years later, Lee and Zoe still live in their Cornubia home and when they want to feel close to Adam, they head across the road to the park to sit on a plain blue-grey metal bench under a shady stand of trees. A plaque on the chair reads: “Logan City Council dedicates this bench to organ donors and their families for the precious gift of life. Local resident Adam Gale loved to play in this park with his daughter. He peacefully passed away in January 2014, donating his organs to save the lives of five people.” Lee has added her own name to the organ donor register. “If we die in a way that means we can donate our organs, it’s much easier if everyone knows your wishes,” Lee urged. Francesca Rourke is one of the more than 100 organ donor professionals across Australia who is tasked with talking to traumatised families about their loved one donating their organs and tissues. “We sit with the family and have conversations regarding the possibility of organ donation, what that might mean and determining what the family wants, what their loved one would have wanted for themselves,” the DonateLife Queensland clinical education co-ordinator said. Once a family gives the go-ahead, the organ donation co-ordinators go over the necessary legal and medical forms with them. They will also ensure the grieving relatives are kept abreast of every step in the process. “The worst thing you can do for the family is not provide them with accurate information,” Francesca said. The day after the organ retrieval and transplants take place, Francesca will phone the family to let them know how the surgeries went and to give them a little bit of background about the recipients. “We let them know what their loved one was able to donate and how many people they helped,” she said, explaining that strict privacy laws mean neither the recipients nor donor family is given information that could reveal the other party’s identity.