The hidden trauma of organ donation

Joanne M van Os
Med J Aust 2009; 191 (11): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb03348.x
Published online: 7 December 2009

My 16-year-old daughter’s heart saved the life of another teenage girl, and her other organs were used to save or improve the lives of six other people. I still believe in organ donation, but there are facts about the donation process that are emotionally confronting and difficult, and we should be given better information so that we are more prepared for the realities of it. These facts should be made clear to anyone considering organ donation, but especially to those who have to make the final decision. The hospital bedside is neither the place nor the time to discover these facts for the first time.

In February 2009, my family was eight months into a global circumnavigation aboard our sailing yacht. We had called into a marina in Phuket, Thailand, and our daughter Ali was watching a huge superyacht tie up at a jetty. An error was made during the docking procedure, which caused a cleat to be torn out of the jetty and the heavy mooring rope to whiplash with extreme force. Ali suffered serious head injuries and was rushed to the Bangkok Hospital Phuket, where she was examined by neurosurgeons. That first night we were told there was no brain activity and no brain stem function, but as certain tests had to be carried out before she could be legally pronounced brain dead, we then waited for five days with her in the hospital before life support could be “turned off”.

  • Joanne M van Os

  • Darwin, NT.



With thanks to Dr Len Notaras and Dr Alan Ruben of Darwin for their compassion and support. Ali’s parents — myself and Lex Silvester — remain absolutely grateful to the doctors and staff at Bangkok Hospital Phuket, Thailand, for the world-class care that Ali received the whole time she was there. This article in no way represents a criticism of the hospital or its staff, who did all they could for our daughter.


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