March is National Kidney Month - the perfect time to have a conversation about organ donation, Kidney Health New Zealand and Organ Donation New Zealand say.
There are currently around 600 people on the kidney donation waiting list in New Zealand, but only about 130 people decided to donate a kidney last year.
“Donating an organ may not be your typical dinner table conversation, but [we] are hoping to change that,” Organ Donation New Zealand says.
University of Waikato alumna Anna Maharaj, now a teacher in Auckland, knows first-hand how important organ donations are after being diagnosed with SLE, also known as lupus.
“Shortly after my 21st birthday my health declined significantly, and I went into end-stage renal failure. I was ... at Waikato hospital for almost two years leading up to my transplant, being too sick to leave hospital,” Maharaj says.
“I was one of the first patients to be put on the transplant waiting list from Waikato Hospital in 2001 ... In 2002, I received my kidney from a deceased donor.
“This gift of life has given me time to see my daughter grow into a teenager, to travel the world, to create a beautiful home and to fulfill my passion for teaching.”
Last year, 63 Kiwis became organ donors after their death, resulting in 122 donated kidneys for the purpose of transplantation, and while this is a great result, there is still room for improvement.
Organ Donation New Zealand donor co-ordinator Sue Garland says her team is in awe of the “graciousness and generosity” of grieving whānau who consider the option of organ and tissue donation for a relative who is dying or who has died.
“Their decision to donate organs and tissue saves and changes lives... I recently spoke with a donor whānau, and they expressed comfort in knowing their whānau member had made such a difference to other people’s lives,” Garland says.
While organ donations which occur after someone has died are only possible in a small proportion of all deaths in New Zealand, they do have a massive impact: one donor has the potential to help up to 10 people through the donation of organs and tissues.
Garland says whether you’re considering live donation or wanting to ensure that your organ donation wishes are considered after you die, it’s really important to talk about it with your loved ones.
Maharaj adds: “Unless you know someone who has received an organ, then you probably aren’t talking about it.”
Acting general manager of Kidney Health New Zealand, Traci Stanbury, says people often assume they can only donate a kidney following death.
“But providing you and both your kidneys are in good health, you may be able to become a living donor and donate to someone in need. Whether it’s for a family member, friend or stranger - donating a kidney is an enormous decision and a true act of altruism,” Stanbury says.
Organ Donation New Zealand (ODNZ) was established in 1987 and co-ordinates the process of organ donation, provides ongoing support for donor families and education and training for healthcare professionals.
Kidney Health New Zealand was founded in 1979 as a non-profit organisation and co-ordinates, advocates for and funds research into the prevention, early detection and cure of kidney disease.