Real estate agent Jenny McReynolds is alive today because of an extraordinarily generous gift she received more than ten years ago.
Suffering from polycystic kidney diseases, the businesswoman was struggling through three debilitating weekly dialysis sessions. Her mother and grandmother and uncle had died from the disease and, increasingly ill, she was clinging to the faint hope of a transplant.
Then a colleague she hardly knew, Cory McPherson, offered her one of his kidneys.
It was a truly life-altering gesture, and it transformed everything for Jenny. Instead of the exhaustion and misery of being virtually chained to a dialysis machine for hours every day, her personal and professional life has gone from strength to strength.
But more than a decade down the track, and as Donate Life Week begins, the organ donation journey is far from over.
“Once you have the transplant, there are a lot of meds you’re on for life,” Jenny says. “I stay very fit and very healthy. You cannot take what you’ve been given for granted, you need to take care of yourself 100 per cent, so I exercise, I eat well.
“The medication can have side effects, your bones can start to weaken from the steroids. But more than anything, it’s about respect for the donor. You can’t take that huge gift for granted, especially where it’s a deceased donor.
“I think we owe that to the families to know that the donation is being treated with respect.”
Because Corey was a live donor and known to Jenny, a special bond has developed between them. Jenny and her husband went to Corey’s wedding in Thailand, they’re in touch frequently and are part of each other’s family events.
“He is like a younger brother to me,” Jenny says.
“They call it the gift of life and it is. That gift has gone right through my family, my kids, my sister and cousins who see the benefit from the transplant. You can’t work [when on dialysis]- family members need to look after you, and it causes huge stress in families financially and emotionally.
“Corey has changed my whole family’s life. We have a granddaughter and another one on the way and I may not have ever been here for them without him.”
The gift underlines the vital significance of organ donation as a lifesaving measure for people who have no other options. While Australia’s success rates with organ donation are high because of our exceptionally skilled transplant surgeons and procedures, donation rates remain stubbornly low.
That’s complicated by the fact that suitable organ donors have often died unexpectedly. Grieving families are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy and unless they know that their family member intended to be an organ donor, it can be a confronting decision. Family members may be hoping for a miracle or unable to comprehend the enormity of what is taking place. Joining the organ donor register signifies your intentions clearly (you’ll just need your Medicare number handy).
“Just sign up and tell your family about your wishes,” Jenny says. “The circumstances are often completely devastating and families are in no position to make decisions if they don’t know what the deal is. So have the conversation with your family and stress that’s what you want.”
Donate Life Week takes place until August 4. The Donate Life website has downloadable material, links to events and details for how you can register as an organ donor.