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Hero in life and death

Phoebe and Ethan with their dad John, who “came on all our school trips – he was the most amazing dad.” Photo: Supplied.

WHEN former paramedic John Griffiths suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage after a fall, his teenage children were left with a daunting choice.

Do they honour his organ donor registration and donate his organs after his death?

Phoebe, now eighteen and in her final year of high school, said, “It was a big question to put on a sixteen-year-old.”

“At the time you’re going through so much, so many emotions; you’re not in the right headspace to be making those decisions.”

In Australia, the decision to donate your organs and tissue will ultimately fall to your family once you’ve passed away.

As a registered donor, John had indicated his wishes before his death and knowing the dedication her father had to help those in need made Phoebe’s decision a little clearer.

“He was the most amazing dad; he was such a kind soul,” Phoebe said.

“His job was saving people’s lives, that’s what he did; so I feel like that final act of donating his organs is such a testament to what he did in his life.

“I can say with so much confidence that it helped the grieving process, knowing that his last act was helping someone else.”

Around 13 million Australians over the age of 16 are eligible to register as an organ or tissue donor but have not yet officially registered.

DonateLife, an initiative by the Australian government, aims to change that by registering 100,000 new donors during DonateLife week.

Becoming a registered organ donor is a simple process that indicates your wish to be a donor after your death, regardless of health status, age, or lifestyle.

However, registering is no guarantee that you’ll be eligible to donate after your death.

As blood and tissue types need to match for a transplant to be successful, registering donors from all communities and ethnic backgrounds is essential.

Around 1,800 Australians are currently on the waitlist for an organ transplant, with a further 12,000 on dialysis who could benefit.

Richard Betteridge was one of those on the waiting list.

Time was running out for Richard after two transplant promises ended in devastating false alarms, with his dying liver wreaking havoc on his kidneys and heart.

Thanks to a third and finally successful organ donation, he recently celebrated his ‘liverversary’, one year since the liver transplant surgery that saved his life.

Richard, shown with his wife Julie, has ”improved by leaps and bounds” after his transplant surgery last July. Photo: Supplied

“They told me I wouldn’t see Christmas, that was the scary thing about it,” Richard said.

“Not only did I see Christmas, but I’ve also seen birthdays, and I’m going to be a grandpa again.

“I could never, ever repay what my donor has done for my family and me.”

Since the national program began, more than 14,000 people like Richard have been given a new chance at life thanks to the gift of organ donation.

And while Richard hasn’t been able to connect with his donor’s family, he knows what he would tell them should the opportunity ever arise.

“I would tell them that because of their loss, because of their courage, because they honoured the decision their relative made, they not only saved my life, they gave me a new life.

“Because of them, I have a future that is just so bright and strong.”

When considering organ donation, the most important thing is to talk to your family about your decision.

As the responsibility ultimately falls to them, families that have discussed organ donation previously are far more likely to agree to the donation process after a loved one’s death.

For those still unsure about the process, Phoebe believes there’s an easy solution.

“If you’re sceptical, just research; there are stories about people on the waiting list, or stories like mine where people have seen the joy that it can bring from a difficult situation.”

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Sara Bolst

Sara is an award-winning writer working in the non-profit space, with nine years of experience connecting people with causes, values, and ways they can change the world. She holds a masters degree in creative writing and is passionate about environmental protection, social justice, and ethical storytelling.

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