Samantha Kapustin took another of life’s big leaps when she started secondary school at Belconnen High last week, but it also marked the first anniversary of a life-changing operation for the 13-year-old liver transplant recipient.
In July 2019, Samantha’s doctors listed her for a liver transplant. After seven months and one false start, Samantha underwent a successful liver transplant operation in February 2020 and now says, “I’m up for doing things again”.
This month is also special as the local community organisation Gift of Life will hold the first ‘virtual’ DonateLife Walk from 22 to 28 February, where participants are encouraged to walk in small groups due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samantha’s father Tim Kapustin said hospital stays, medical check-ups and operations have been prominent in his daughter’s young life after being born with a rare liver disease called Biliary Atresia. The disease severely compromised her liver function, and at just four weeks old she had an eight-hour operation to help her liver work properly.
Two years ago, Samantha’s health declined dramatically and she experienced a lot of pain, constant itchiness and was drained of all energy.
“We are extremely grateful that another family made the selfless and generous decision to donate their loved one’s organs,” says Mr Kapustin said.
“This became Samantha’s second chance at life. Samantha looks and feels so much better. She can participate in life again.”
Samantha will be one of many participants in the DonateLife Walk to help raise organ donation awareness. She believes there is little understanding of organ donation and the transplant process.
Her transplant anniversary comes as the Australian Organ and Tissue Authority released its annual outcomes data, showing marked decreases in Australia’s organ donation and transplantation rates for 2020.
There was a 12 per cent decrease in the number of people receiving a transplant and a 16 per cent decrease in the number of donors compared to 2019, due to the impact of COVID-19.
The most common transplant, a kidney, saw 18 per cent fewer transplants performed, resulting in 153 fewer renal patients receiving the transplant they need.
The transplant sector took precautionary steps and suspended kidney transplant programs from late-March through to mid-May last year due to concerns that hospitals would be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, placing transplant patients at high risk of being exposed to the virus. Only urgent heart, lung, liver and paediatric transplants continued.
About 1,650 Australians are waitlisted for a transplant and more than 12,000 others are on dialysis, many of whom may need a kidney transplant.
President of Gift of Life and corneal recipient Catherine Scott would like to see all Canberrans get behind the DonateLife Walk and start a conversation with their loved ones about organ and tissue donation.
“For 15 years the community of Canberra and the surrounding region have supported Gift of Life’s DonateLife Walk. The virtual walk is a first for us and I hope people continue to support the cause this year,” she said.
“We are encouraging people to gather in small groups, walk up to 5 km and share their walk photos on social media to help raise awareness of organ and tissue donation. The more people talk about donation, the more likely people are to take the next step and put their name on the Australian Organ Donor Register,” Ms Scott said.
The walk is sponsored by the Organ and Tissue Authority and supported by the ACT Government. You can sign-up at Gift of Life. Donate Life has more information on organ and tissue donation in Australia.