West Australian grandmother Yvonne Edward was as generous in death as she was in life.
After suffering a brain hemorrhage and heart attack in 2016, the 73-year-old’s family made the kind-hearted decision for her to become an organ and tissue donor, saving the lives of three people and granting life-changing hope to dozens of others.
As well as giving her liver and two kidneys, Mrs Edward donated her leg bones, which means 44 bone grafts have been stored to help patients undergoing future surgical procedures.
This week Mrs Edward’s family paid tribute to their selfless loved one during DonateLife Week 2017, Australia’s national awareness week to promote organ and tissue donation.
“My Mum was a beautiful soul,” daughter Alex Edward said.
“She was a strong Christian and her life motto was that those who are blessed should bless others. She freely gave her time, her love and her money, often anonymously, so it’s fitting that her final act was to give anonymously.”
A mother-of-two who also had two grandchildren, Mrs Edward was raised as part of a farming family in Wagin and returned to the family farm after she married her husband of 50 years, Malcolm.
Ms Edward said the family’s decision for her mother to be an organ and tissue donor was in keeping with her Mum’s strong Christian faith and generous personality. Soon after the family made the decision to donate, they realised Mrs Edward had, in fact, registered as a donor in 2003.
“Several weeks after my mum died, I was going through her desk draw and found a bookmark she had kept that said “Don’t take your organ’s to heaven, heaven knows we need them here”. It was like a personal message from mum confirming our decision,” she said.
Ms Edward said the organ and tissue donation journey had been a positive experience for her family and she had been compelled to speak about the importance of registering your wishes as part of DonateLife Week.
“Organ donation is a very gentle process and you are in control,” she said. “There is time to consider and make decisions. We did not feel pressured and we were able to specify which organs were taken and which remained.
“As we understand it, the recipients of Mum’s liver and two kidneys are all doing well. It is such a consolation to know that they have benefited from what was a sudden and confusing time for us. We also hope that those people that receive her bones have successful healing.
“It is kind of a fitting conclusion of Mum’s life. We always knew Mum loved to give all she could and in the end we could be true to her character. We are very proud that part of her continues on.”
PlusLife Managing Director Anne Cowie said the organisation had this year launched the PlusLife Corporate Challenge to increase awareness about life-changing tissue donations and bolster the number of potential donors actively registering their wishes.
“National statistics show that nine in 10 families agree to donation when their loved one is a registered donor. But this figure drops to just five in 10 families when the deceased has not registered and relatives are not clear about their loved one’s wishes,” Mrs Cowie said.
“By registering on the Australian Organ Donor Register you are letting your family know your intentions at what can be a difficult and emotional time.”
PlusLife, which manages bone and tissue donations in WA, has two donor programs. 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. And, like organ donation, bone, tendons and ligaments can be donated after death with consent from next-of-kin.
“While organ donation has a high community profile, many people are not aware that tissue donation is actually possible, or that the decision to donate tissue and bone can be life- changing for patients,” Mrs Cowie said.
“One deceased tissue donor has the potential to improve the wellbeing, sight and mobility of up to 60 people through the donations of bones, tendons, corneas, heart valves and skin.”
Last year, more than 560 West Australians received bone and tissue donations.
Nationally, there were 4291 tissue donors, including 424 deceased donors who made 650 tissue donations in 2016.
But latest statistics show that just 36.2% of West Australians are registered tissue and organ donors.
Grafts are used for patients undergoing life-changing operations, such as surgery to treat spinal deformities, bone cancers, complex joint surgery and the treatment of patients with dental and facial bone loss.
DonateLife Week runs from July 30 until August 6.
To register as a bone, tissue or organ donor, visit www.donorregister.gov.au or via Medicare online.