The greatest gift of all

Date: 02/08/2018

To mark DonateLife Week (29 July until 5 August), Cabrini intensive care specialist Dr Steve Philpot shares his unique perspective on the value of organ donation, telling how the life of one saved four.

Kaye, a 69-year-old mother of two, suffered a severe and unexpected stroke, and needed mechanical ventilation in Cabrini Malvern’s intensive care unit (ICU). Despite treatment, her brain injury was so severe that she died – making her one of the very few people who can be organ donors.

When Cabrini’s ICU doctors discussed the potential of organ donation with Kaye’s grieving daughters, they had no hesitation in agreeing to this generous gift: they were sure it is what Kaye would have wanted. Through this selfless act, Kaye became Cabrini’s first organ donor in many years.

Organ donation is a rare event. Despite the fact that there are few medical exclusions for donation, less than 1 per cent of us will die in such a way that allows organ donation to be considered. As a result, many people are waiting for an organ transplant. Some of them will die before they ever receive a life-saving transplant, while others need dialysis to keep them alive.

Each organ donor can save or improve the lives of many people, and organ donation has an enormous impact, not only on the recipients of organ transplants but on their loved ones.

  • Unlike organ donation, eye and tissue donation is possible even for people who do not die in ICU. Eye donation helps restore sight for people with corneal disease.
  • Tissue donation includes donation of bone and tendon used for reconstructive surgery, heart valves often used in cardiac surgery on children and skin used to treat burns victims.
  • Unlike solid organs which need to be transplanted immediately, eye and tissue donations may be stored until needed.

Once Kaye’s daughters had given consent for donation, the process of identifying the recipients began. This involved performing tests to see which organs Kaye could donate, and then finding the potential recipients who were the best matches and in greatest need of transplants. The process took about 24 hours, during which time Kaye continued to be cared for in the ICU. Her family were supported during this period by Cabrini doctors and staff including those in ICU, pastoral care and hospital administration, as well as DonateLife staff. They were able to stay at Kaye’s bedside during the assessment period.

Once recipients had been identified, surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre nurses from around Australia performed the donation and transplantation operations.

As a result of Kaye’s generous gift, four people received life-saving transplants. Kaye was able to donate both of her kidneys, her liver and her lungs. The recipients were from various States in Australia, all receiving a second chance at a healthy life after years of poor health. Both kidney recipients are now free from the constraints of dialysis.

Your family will always be asked to give the final consent for organ and tissue donation; this decision is much easier for them if they know your wishes. One way to do this is to register your wish to be an organ and tissue donor on the Australian Organ Donor Register. It is important to discuss this with your family too, so that they know what you would want them to do if they are ever asked about donation.

For more information visit