Father waiting for triple organ transplant hopes for Christmas gift of life
Mr Leveridge has been waiting a year for a new heart, lung and liver. (ABC News: Lexy Hamilton-Smith)
When Joshua Leveridge watches his son Reuben open his presents this Christmas he will also be keeping a close eye on his phone, waiting for the one call that could save his life.
- Option to register for organ donation on a driver’s licence ceased over 12 years ago in favour of a national register
- There are currently 1,400 people on the organ donation waiting list in Australia, with about 50 of those being children
- People should not think they are too old to register, with some in their 80s still able to change lives through donation
The Gold Coast nurse was born with cystic fibrosis and is in desperate need of a triple organ transplant — a heart, lungs and a liver.
Mr Leveridge, 36, has been on the transplant waiting list for a year now, and knows the clock is ticking.
The option to register for organ donation on a driver’s licence ceased over 12 years ago in favour of a national register — the Australian Organ Donor Register — but many people still do not realise the process had changed.
It is the only present Mr Leveridge wants this Christmas, but he is brutally aware his “second chance” would only come through another family’s tragedy.
“It is difficult to reconcile the fact that someone has to pass away for me to gain a gift — a gift of my own life,” Mr Leveridge said.
“I will have the phone next to me as I am opening up the presents on Christmas Day, but I will live life as it should be right up until it happens.”
He and wife Elizabeth, also a nurse, have been very upfront with their nine-year-old son about “dad’s situation”.
“In the first couple of months on the waiting list, every time the phone rang I jumped at it,” he said.
“I know it is hard on my family — I have not kept anything from my little boy and he does get a bit sad sometimes.”
But this festive season they will be eating turkey, playing games, and having fun just like any other family.
Mr Leveridge has just finished a week-long stint at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, being pumped full of antibiotics, to keep his failing lungs functioning.
Transplant recipient will ‘re-gift’ his heart
Mr Leveridge said his faith has helped him get through the last year, but he was well aware he could die before a donor became available.
He too, is on the donor register and intends to “re-gift” his heart.
“It is called the domino effect — I don’t need a new heart, but doctors need to transplant all three organs from the same donor,” Mr Leveridge said.
It increased the chances of the triple transplant being a success.
“I would actually get to give my heart to someone else and that is very cool, it is awesome,” Mr Leveridge said.
“Tragedy happens anywhere and no-one knows rhyme or reason really.
“Anyone can need it at any time and anyone can give the gift at any time — it is a little bit of a blessing in a terribly sad situation”.
Families need to talk about their wishes
Queensland Lung Transplant Service director Dr Peter Hopkins said the average waiting time for triple transplant recipients was about two years.
“It has been very tough for him — as his clinician, it is sometimes hard to watch your patients wait,” Dr Hopkins said.
Dr Peter Hopkins, with Joshua Leveridge, says the average waiting time for triple transplant recipients was about two years. (ABC News: Lexy Hamilton-Smith)
There are currently 1,400 people on the organ donation waiting list in Australia, with about 50 of those being children.
“In Australia approximately 60 per cent of families consent for donation,” Dr Hopkins said.
“We know compared to other countries around the world that number is relatively low.
“Even a slight increase in that consent rate would lead to a big increase in organ donors and that would have a dramatic impact of transplant numbers.”
He said families needed to talk with each other about their wishes.
“Unfortunately accidents and tragedies happen and people are being asked a difficult question at a really difficult time,” Dr Hopkins said.
‘An emotional decision to make’ after loved one’s death
Barbi Alexander knows the heartbreak of making the decision to donate after the death of her younger brother Robert Graham.
He died just over a year ago after a severe traumatic head injury following an assault in Cairns in Far North Queensland.
Mr Graham was a widower with no children, so the decision-making was left to his big sister.
It was made more difficult because her brother had never joined the Australian Organ Donor Register.
Barbi Alexander works with Donate Life Queensland, encouraging people to register for organ donation. (Supplied: Barbi Alexander)
“It was an emotional decision to make — from a moral and medical perspective it was the right thing to do,” Ms she said.
“If we had a clear direction, it is one less tormenting decision for a family to have to make.”
Two people, one from Brisbane and another from Western Australia, received her brother’s kidneys.
They were the only organs donated.
Fending off tears, Ms Alexander said Christmas was always a struggle, but this year would be a little easier because she had received two thank-you letters from one of the kidney patients.
“The hope and the joy in those letters really confirmed it was the right thing to do,” she said.
“I just pull out those letters and read about what a happy, healthy life this lady is leading and the gratitude she has to the donor family.
“She completely understands that it has cost another family for her to have a second chance.
“She tells me she is travelling a lot and she has fallen in love with somebody — she’d been single up to now.”
Ms Alexander said it has been great for her to have that positive feedback.
“The reward of knowing two people are out of hospital now far outweighs the initial sadness I guess, over time,” Ms Alexander said.
Age is no barrier for organ donation
Donate Life chief executive officer Tina Coco said 6.5 million Australians aged 16 and over had now signed up, but as organ donation required an exact match, many more were needed.
Organ donations in Qld in 2017
- 105 Queensland deceased organ donors saved the lives of 297 Australians
- Around 1,200 Queenslanders who died last year also donated tissues for transplant, including eye, heart valve, skin and bone tissue
- These include 955 Queenslanders who became living bone tissue donors
- 90 per cent of families agree to donation when the donor has registered
- But only 44 per cent of families agree to donation when the donor has not registered
“Losing someone you love at a terrible time is probably the worst place to learn about organ donation,” Ms Coco said.
“It is really important because we know nine out of 10 families will agree to organ donation if their loved one has actually registered their decision to donate.”
Ms Coco said people should not think they were too old to register.
“Many people considering donation rule themselves out based on their age or lifestyle,” Ms Coco said.
“While this is a consideration for the very young and very old, it is not the determining factor — people in their 80s are still able to change lives through donation.
“Their gifts of skin helps burns patients recover; eye tissue restores sight; bone and tendon can help people walk again.
“Some people in their 80s are able to donate organs as well.
“It’s best for people to simply decide if they wish to donate and let the medical experts decide — at the time of their death — if they can.”
Donor register online
Australia is ranked 18th for organ donations, accordingly to the latest International Registry and Organ Donation and Transplantation report.
Spain leads the world, followed by Portugal, then Belgium.
In 2017, 1,675 lives in Australia were transformed by the generosity of 510 organ donors whose families agreed to donation at the time of their loved one’s death, and also by 273 living organ donors.
People can register online, which takes less than two minutes at www.donatelife.gov.au.