The Gift of Life


Are you an organ donor? Do your friends and family know your wishes? Have you even thought about it at all?

Amanda Carter

Katrina Zicchino, a Townsville mother who received a lifesaving transplant, would like you to think seriously about these questions because they could save someone’s life.

Katrina was diagnosed with end stage renal failure in 2000 after a routine cholesterol check with her doctor.

“I had about four or five precent function left in my kidneys. I was diagnosed by accident, I went to get my cholesterol check and the doctor did a complete run of blood tests and my kidney function was way out of whack,” Katrina said.

Katrina was put on dialysis, something that changed her life dramatically.

“We did dialysis three times a week for… basically it takes up the whole day. You’re on the machine for five hours a day and that changed my life dramatically because I couldn’t work, I couldn’t be there for the kids or go on holidays; you’re tied to the dialysis machine,” she said.

But dialysis is not a cure and many patients have to wait years to get transplants and as Katrina points out, many die while waiting for organs to become available.

Thankfully for the mother of two, after three years on dialysis, a kidney became available and she was a match.

Katrina flew to Brisbane to receive what she affectionately refers to as a ‘pre-loved’ kidney.

“It was what’s called a cadaveric transplant, where someone else has been diagnosed with brain death in ICU and was listed as an organ donor and I was the next match for a kidney,” she said.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about organ donation. [People] don’t like the idea of the body being cut up, whereas utmost respect is given. They even replace the eyes with glass eyes,” says Katrina, who is also an representative for Donate Life , an initiative aimed at helping people understand organ donation.

The Donate Life website says that Australia is a world leader for successful transplant outcomes, yet has one of the lowest donation rates in the developed world. Around 1600 Australians are on the organ transplant waiting list.

Katrina, her family and many families like hers would like to see more people became organ donors. One organ donor can save or improve the lives of 10-12 people.

Katrina understands it can be a difficult subject to talk about but would like people to be open with family and friends about organ donation. Up to 43% of Australians do not know or are not sure of the donation wishes of their loved ones.

“The best thing people can do is to actually talk to your family and very close friends about it so that if ever you were in that unfortunate situation when you’re in ICU and you are declared brain dead and the question comes up about organ donation your family knows what you wanted, what your wishes are.”

“Because at the end of the day your family will have the final say,” she said.

Katrina is now involved with raising awareness about organ donation and has told a part of her story in the DonateLife Book of Life, a compilation of stories told by survivors and the families of the donors.

In an excerpt from her story, Katrina speaks of what it’s like to get a second lease on life:

“I am so blessed to be alive and life is an amazing adventure. Every day is precious and like many transplant recipients, I live life in the moment. I will always be incredibly grateful for the most generous gift any human being could give, a part of them that lives on to give another person a chance for a happy, healthy life.” DonateLife Book of Life.

“Receiving a transplant is basically a second chance at life. And it’s a huge, huge blessing. It really just gives another person a second chance on life. It’s a true gift of life.”

If you’re thinking of becoming an organ donor visit the Donate Life website for more information. The most important thing is to talk to your loved ones and make them aware of your wishes.