The phone rings in two homes, one call brings hope, and the other, devastation.

Across New Zealand, more than 500 people annually wait for the call to say an organ transplant has arrived.

Fewer than one per cent of New Zealanders die in a way that allows them to be organ donors.

A donation is only possible when a person is in an Intensive Care Unit, on a ventilator, usually with devastating brain damage.

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Most donors come out of human tragedy, and that organ and tissue donation would not be possible without the generosity of families going through the toughest of times.

One man waiting for the phone to ring is former Horowhenua College sports co-ordinator Rex.

He asks people to consider organ donation and have the conversation with your family, so if tragedy does hit, your family will honor your wish to give life.

Rex struggles to talk, walk, drive and keep his balance as toxins attack his body.

He suffers from a liver disease called nodular regenerative hyperplasia, putting him on the liver transplant waiting list.

"It all started one day as I was playing squash, and I got beaten by a guy I should never have lost to," he said.

"When I got off the court, I was sweating like a pig. It wasn't like me, so I went to the doctor."

Over the years he progressively got worse, slowly losing his speech, to the point where he couldn't speak at a school assembly and would have students speak for him.

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Eventually, the doctors told him he had liver disease.

Rex left his job and is now waiting for his "hero" to come along.

"I just have to wait for the call - it could be tomorrow, or it could be in two years," he said.

Rex joins two other Horowhenua residents who have experienced a form of liver disease requiring transplants, Lyn and Dennis.

Lyn received her transplant 26 years ago and has lived a full and healthy life since.

Lyn said she always thinks about the teenage boy whose liver she received.

To her he is the hero, and so is his family who chose to donate his organs.

However, a recent recurrence of disease may, in time, mean she is back on the waiting list.
"I may be going down the same road again with liver disease, so my biggest wish is for everybody to have the conversation with his or her families about organ donation. You could save somebody's life, you could be my hero," she said.

Dennis suffered for more than 13 years with health problems and received a liver transplant late last year.

Before his transplant, Dennis had similar symptoms to Rex - he struggled with forgetfulness, confusion, balance and water retention.

Without a transplant, Dennis was told he had two years to live.

"I'm very grateful to my donor and the family," he said.

Dennis is now up and about, mostly recovered as his speech has returned, his balance is restored and the confusion gone.

He has received the gift of new life, one that he plans to spend enjoying with his wife, children, and watching his moko (grandchildren) grow up.

Dennis echoed Lyn's words, saying that he couldn't be more thankful to the "heroes" and their families that had given him and many others such a life-transforming gift.

According to Organ Donation New Zealand, one donor can transform the lives of up to 10 recipients.

Last year, thanks to 73 donors and their families, 215 recipients were able to benefit from heart, lung, liver, kidney or pancreas transplants, many more people benefited from the donation of tissue, including eyes, heart valves, and skin.

There are still around 550 people waiting for transplants at any one time.

When organ donation is not possible, tissue can often be donated.

In 2017 Organ Donation New Zealand facilitated 61 tissue-only donations (eyes, heart valves, and skin) from people who died in a hospital ward, hospice or at home.

Organ Donation New Zealand says if you do want to be a donor in the event of your death, make sure you let your family know and have that conversation today.

¦ For more information visit www.donor.co.nz or call 0800 4 DONOR.