Wellard grandmother Sally Couch counts her blessings every day – and the anonymous bone donor who gave her a new lease on life.
After living in crippling pain with scoliosis since the age of 16, the mother-of-three was facing the prospect of living in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
But three years ago, the 56-year-old had a life-changing total spinal fusion, thanks to a woman who donated her hip bone after hip replacement surgery.
“I was in crippling pain from scoliosis all my life to the point that I could hardly walk,” Mrs Couch said. “It was a crippling, cruel situation. It was horrendous.
“But after the operation the change was amazing. I went from being unable to walk far and being housebound to having a whole new lease on life. I couldn’t even lift my grandchildren to give them a cuddle and now I’m babysitting them and enjoying being a Grandma.
“The work of PlusLife really is so important, I didn’t even know the bone and tissue bank existed until I needed it,” she said. “The bone graft donation I received was a lifesaver in every sense of the word.”
More than 560 West Australians were given the gift of improved mobility, sight and wellbeing last year, thanks to the selfless donations of bone and tissue.
PlusLife, WA’s bone and tissue bank, provided an incredible 908 individual grafts to 564 patients undergoing life-changing operations, such as surgery to treat spinal deformities, complex joint surgery and treatments of patients with dental and facial bone loss.
In 35 of last year’s cases, bone and tissue recipients were young cancer patients saved the distress of having a limb amputated.
PlusLife Managing Director Anne Cowie said tribute should be paid to the hundreds of living and deceased tissue donors who, through their generous donations, had helped improve many lives.
“While organ donation rightly has a high community profile and is known as the ultimate, life- saving gift, many people are not aware that tissue donation is actually possible, or that their decision to be a tissue donor can have life-changing benefits for patients,” Mrs Cowie said.
Living patients having hip replacement surgery can donate the ball part of their hip, which is used commonly in a ground-up form for children with spinal deformities.
“One deceased tissue donor has the potential to improve the wellbeing, sight and mobility of up to 60 people,” Mrs Cowie said.
“There is a significant lack of awareness about the donation of human tissue after death, which includes bones, tendons, corneas, heart valves and skin. This lack of awareness impacts on the likely decision family of a recently deceased person will make when asked to consent to donation by their loved one.
“We urge West Australians to consider tissue donation, talk to your family and friends about your wishes and register your wishes on the Australian Organ Donor Registry.”
Mrs Cowie said many living donors and donor families were grateful to receive letters from transplant recipients to hear about how their donations had benefited the lives of others.
“Some transplant recipients choose to write to their donor family to thank them for their gift and share how the transplant has changed their lives,” she said.
“We encourage recipients to write to their donor families if and when the time is right for them, however we acknowledge that this is a deeply personal decision.
“Many donor families respond well to receiving a letter or card from patients who have received donated tissue. Many see this as a positive outcome from a very tragic incident and this correspondence can provide a great deal of comfort as they deal with their loss.
“Similarly, some living donors have expressed a great deal of happiness that their decision to pass on bone or tissue has meant the recipient has been able to enjoy a renewed lease on life.”
PlusLife is the only bone and tissue bank in WA and has delivered services valued at more than $30 million to the community over the past 23 years. In addition to supplying for local medical procedures, it also provides bone and tissue around Australia.
To register as a bone, tissue or organ donor, visit www.donorregister.gov.au or via Medicare online.