Two Proserpine Hospital clinicians who share the same life changing organ transplant experience are urging people to pull on their favourite jersey and start the conversation about organ and tissue registration this Jersey Day.
Senior registrar Dr Emma Hinschen and registered nurse Jolene Courtenay grew up on opposite sides of the world – the Hunter Valley and Canada, respectively – but both ended up working at Proserpine Hospital and recently discovered their fathers underwent the same life changing transplant procedure.
Both men received a bilateral lung transplant just eight months apart and now live with greatly improved health.
Dr Hinschen’s father was diagnosed bronchiolitis obliterans as a 41-year-old which causes narrowing and inflammation of the small airways and sometimes fibrosis or scarring.
“Bronchiolitis obliterans is a cruel condition and essentially the patient feels like they are slowly suffocating. Treatments were designed to keep dad as well as possible for as long as possible,” Dr Hinschen said.
“So many aspects of dad’s life were limited – he became dependent on oxygen for simple tasks such as showering, he couldn’t enjoy time with mum or their grandchildren and going to watch my brother play football would require one of us carrying a small inconspicuous stool so he could have multiple breaks on the way from the car to the sideline.
“It was just heartbreaking to see him suffer.”
“Leaving the house was becoming impossible for dad and the stress and anxiety of not being able to catch his breath to do normal activities of daily living was draining on him and his partner,” Jolene said.
“He spent all of 2020 committing to going on the transplant list and doing copious amounts of testing. It was exhausting, and I would be lying if I said he didn’t consider giving up a few times during this process.
“After all of the testing had been completed, dad had a meeting with the transplant team and was placed on the transplant list.”
Both Dr Hinschen and Jolene said the phone call they each received from their parents with news that a lung donor match had been found was very emotional.
“They had their ‘go bags’ packed and ready at the front door. I packed my own bags and when we knew the transplant was going ahead I said goodbye to dad and got on the plane to Sydney.
“The transplant was a success and one year later he is doing fantastic. He will never run a marathon but is enjoying being independent and doing jobs around the house with Mum – he’s actually building a fence at moment!”
Jolene stayed awake for over 36 hours following her 5-minute phone call from her father, waiting to hear how his procedure went.
“As soon as he made it into the ICU I felt tremendous relief that he had made it through the operation.
“I was so fortunate to see him via telehealth while dad was waking up. He was still intubated but looking around and responding to my voice – I was elated, ecstatic and so darn happy to see him and I felt immense pride that he had the courage and strength to take control of his health.
“It took my dad a few weeks to get the hang of deep breathing and simply breathing normally but the difference in how he feels now on a day to day basis is remarkable.
“He is out doing things – exercising, shopping and enjoying nature. He says this surgery has given him hope for the future and more time to spend with his family.”
Jersey Day is inspired by 13-year-old Nathan Gremmo who tragically died in May 2015 and is all about promoting awareness of the Organ and Tissue Authority and DonateLife network.
Last year 86 Queensland organ donors saved the lives of 253 Australians, with another 419 donating their eyes and 102 donating their tissue providing lifesaving procedures to their recipients.
“Organ and tissue donation has the ability to save so many lives, just like my dad’s, and he would not be here today if it were not for the generous decision of his donor and their family,” Dr Hinschen said.
“If anyone wishes to be an organ donor, it is crucial to sign up to the registry and let your family know your wishes, as it may give the gift of life to someone one day.”
Registering to be an organ and tissue donor is quick using the online form via donatelife.gov.au, existing myGov account, Express Plus Medicare app or paper registration form.