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Blenheim man's future hinges on transplant

The Marlborough Express | Friday, 23 February 2007

"We have had so many people asking if they can help out in any way and I just say put your name on a donor register."


As Blenheim man Linus Maxwell lies in Auckland hospital, his infected liver betraying his once active body, his wife Gayle remains remarkably positive. But they are both shocked at the low number of organ donors in New Zealand.

Anyone who offers to help is asked to simply become a donor. "It may not help Linus but it may help someone else," Gayle said from her husband's bedside this week as the health select committee heard submissions on two parliamentary bills aimed at improving New Zealand's rate of donation.

A life long surfer, downhill mountain biker, Allan Scott head cellarhand and general life lover, Linus was diagnosed a year ago with Hepatitis C, an infection which may have been dormant in his body for 25 years.

Doctors picked it up after he fell off his mountain bike and cracked two of his vertebrae.

They found his liver was not the right size and his spleen was enlarged, Gayle said. "And they started investigating from there."

Because the infection was so old, the liver was too damaged to regenerate, so a month ago Linus was assessed for a transplant, making him one of 12 New Zealanders waiting for a liver transplant.

His blood type is a rare AB, which is in fact a blessing that will allow for a transplant from an A, B or AB blood type, said Gayle.

However, three weeks ago Linus contracted an ear infection and his liver was unable to process the toxins, leading to a form of colonitis. Since then he has been relying on blood replacements and proteins at Auckland Hospital.

On Wednesday he had three 500ml blood replacements, as well as exploratory surgery.

He celebrated his 49th birthday from his hospital bed on Saturday, 10kg lighter than he was three weeks ago. Now hospital staff are concentrating on getting his condition back to where he was a month ago, when he was able to work four hours a day, said Gayle.

Gayle insists the hospital stint is just a "little set back" and she's hopeful Linus will have a new liver by the end of the year.

She said staff at Allan Scott had been very supportive, despite the fact that they were nearing the very busy time of vintage.

Colleague Elisha Wickliffe said Linus had tried to make an effort to come to work every day in the last year, but she could see it was a drain on him.

"It is hard to watch someone so healthy and fit get so weak," she said.

Gayle said her employer, Marlborough Bottling, had also been "super supportive".

Meanwhile the health system and staff had been everything she could have asked for, she said.

The only thing lacking then, was organ donors.

According to Organ Donation New Zealand, only five Marlborough people have donated organs in the last five years.

One of the submitters at Wednesday's hearing, organ donor campaigner Andy Tookey, has called for an audit of Organ Donation New Zealand, saying its results are "miserable".

He had with him his five-year-old daughter Katie, who has a rare liver condition, biliary atresia, and will probably require a transplant within the next five years.

Mr Tookey is co-author of National MP Jackie Blue's Human Tissue (Organ Donation) Amendment Bill and opposes the Government's Human Tissue Bill, which he says allows a donor's wishes to be overridden by family members. The select committee is hearing the two bills in tandem.

Mr Tookey wants a donor register where people can sign up as a donor, but also can say they don't wish to be one or that they defer to their families' wishes.

He has campaigned for greater public awareness about organ donation and was scathing today about New Zealand's low donation record, with just 25 people donating organs last year.

"The organ donor system is broke and it does need fixing. People are dying on the waiting list.

"I think we are past the stage of sticking plasters, we have (almost) the lowest rate in the western world - we are just above Mexico and behind Iceland, so whatever you do, you can't make it any worse."

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