Donor Tissue Bank urges community to register as tissue donors

By Katie Johnson

Whether it’s helping someone to regain their eyesight, restoring a burn victim’s quality of life or increasing mobility in cancer patients—tissue donation helps thousands of Victorians get back on their feet every year.

So, although Donate Life Week in late July has just passed, the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria (DTBV) on Moore St is still working around the clock to raise awareness about the importance of becoming a donor.

DTBV tissue donation nurse specialist Janine Shields said that although it wasn’t a conversation many people wanted to have, it was vital people thought about their wishes to save their family making the decision later down the line.

“I’m very passionate about tissue donation because it’s not promoted as widely as organ donation is,” Ms Shields said.

“Our message is that people should decide what they want to do, talk to their families and register to become a donor as it makes it much easier for your family to know what your wishes are.”

As the only not-for-profit multi-tissue bank in Australasia, DTBV works under the Victorian Forensic Institute of Medicine to screen, process and distribute many types of tissue.

The parts of the body that can be donated include skin, heart valves, bones, tendons and corneas—which help patients of all ages get their quality of life back.

“Unlike organ donation which has to take part in a hospital setting, tissue donation can occur up to 24 hours after death,” Ms Shields said.

“If we had a full tissue donor—someone who donated cornea, skin, heart valves, bones and tendons—that could help 55 to 65 people from just one donor.”

Ms Shields said the importance of donors was well illustrated by the White Island volcano disaster late last year off the coast of New Zealand, which completely depleted the DTBV’s skin bank.

“All our donations went to Victorian victims of the disaster and we’re still trying to build our storages back up. So, it just shows that if you have something like a bush fire, it can completely wipe us out in regards to skin donation,” Ms Shields said.

With Jersey Day coming up on September 4—an awareness day run by the Organ and Tissue Authority—now is a great time to start thinking about becoming a donor.

“It’s a day to wear your favourite team jersey—sports or otherwise—to get the word out there about organ and tissue donation,” Ms Shields said.

“Becoming a donor is really an amazing gift you can give to someone after you’ve passed away which can give them back their life—whether it’s a burn victim or someone with mobility issues. They can go out and play with their siblings or their children and get that quality of life back.”

As the loss of a loved-one is a sombre and often messy affair, it’s particularly important to have these discussions early—which is why the DTBV recommends becoming part of the register.

“It’s a tragic time for a lot of people and a difficult conversation. But our conversation does become a little but easier if the donor is registered on the Australia organ donor register because families then know what their loved ones wishes were,” Ms Shields said.

“A lot of people don’t know that their loved one is registered so it’s important to have those conversations.”

The staff at DTBV not only support the families by giving them information, guiding them through the process and providing emotional support, but also follow up with the families afterward.

One way they do this is through a memorial day service centred around the “tree of life” at DTBV headquarters— a painting donated by the family of a tissue donor who was an artist.

“We put the names of every tissue donor on the leaves. Then at the end of the year in November we have a memorial service called Leaf Day where all the families can come together and we can meet them to commemorate the tissue donors,” Ms Shields said.

“We can also give the family some information about how their loved-one’s donation has been used to help someone else in the community.”

Although her job is often difficult and emotional, Ms Shields said it was a very rewarding position to be in.

“Our slogan is that it only takes a minute to register and it’s an incredible gift you can give to someone, so I’m very glad to be involved.” •

For more information visit dtbv.org.au or register to become a tissue donor at donatelife.gov.au

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