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Schemes to raise organ donation unveiled

7 June 2012


New Zealand's dismal organ donation rate is the focus of three new schemes from the Government.

Figures released last year showed New Zealand had the lowest rate in the Western world aside from Greece.

Last year 186 patients received transplants.

But Health Minister Tony Ryall said many people were waiting for organs, including 600 in need of kidney replacements.

In Dunedin yesterday he announced $4 million over four years would be directed at boosting donations.

Half of that would go into training for intensive care staff to identify dying patients who might be candidates and give support to their families.

Another $1.75m was aimed at raising the number of 'live' donations by employing dedicated staff to guide patients and their families through the decision.

A further $250,000 will pay for a pilot "exchange scheme" to "mix and match" donor and recipient pairs.

"We hope to give many more people who need a transplant, renewed lives, and reduce expensive health care costs, such as dialysis," Ryall said.

Organ Donation New Zealand the co-ordination service which will get half the cash injection said they were "grateful."

Clinical director Dr Stephen Streat said ODNZ has been gathering data from intensive care units across the country for three years. It estimated more than 400 patients were waiting for an organ transplant.

"The data suggests that there is some scope for increasing organ donation in New Zealand."

But organ donation could only happen when a donor was on a ventilator in an intensive care unit with fatal brain damage, he said. "Less than 1 per cent of all deaths happen this way."

Campaigner Andy Tookey said it was time for a public debate about an "opt-out system". At present, Kiwis register their wish to be a donor on application for a driving licence.

Tookey believed the Spanish "soft" system where donation was automatic unless specified, with relatives able to veto the decision, was more effective.

"We are one of the lowest in the Western world for organ donations. Spain has the highest organ donor rate in the world. I'm happy to go with whatever works."

But he welcomed the Government's funding boost. He said education was vital as international research showed up to 50 per cent of families "say no" to donation.

"Any money is obviously very welcome. There are really only about 100 potential [deceased] donors a year. But only around 38 of them become donors, so it appears the families are saying no."

However, Ryall ruled out an opt-out system saying the Government was adopting the Spanish approach of dedicated ICU nurses.

CASE STUDY"We are not considering changing any of those rules. What we do know from Spain is that what has been pivotal is that there are ICU nurses who have talked to the families. They found it was that direct approach to families that was more effective."

Two years ago Simon Gilbertson was facing "the end of the road."

In March 2010 he struggled to walk and was spending up to 16 hours a day in bed.

But six months after a heart transplant he completed the gruelling Taupo cycle race. A year later the cyclist competed in the World Transplant Games.

"My heart came from a 47-year-old woman. If it wasn't for my donor I wouldn't be here today...I couldn't do anything with my kids. I was really a bit of a slobbering fool."

Gilbertson, a 47-year-old father of three, crashed while riding his mountainbike in 2007, landing heavily on his chest and then suffering a massive heart attack.

Over the next few years his heart slowly disintegrated and he was placed on a waiting list for a new heart. "I was crook for three years," he said.

On the night she died, his donor saved four lives. "I feel like a regular person and twice a day I remind myself I'm a recipient, that's when I take my immunosuppressants in the morning and in the evening."

Gilbertson, a vintner from Napier, urged donors to explain to their families they are serious.

"The message is to communicate. If someone is going to tick that box on their driver's licence then as soon as they have done that they have to communicate their wishes to the wider family.

"Let them know you are very serious and you want them to let you carry out your wish to save up to ten lives with your body."

- Stuff

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