Tuesday, September 06, 2011

‘I’m being given a second chance at life’ - South African woman waits for heart/lung transplant

By Cate Rayner Independent Online Lifestyle

Everyone should meet Tina Beckbessinger. She is an absolute inspiration. At 30, when most women are looking forward to a full and healthy life, Tina has only a single mission - to remain strong enough to undergo a heart-lung transplant.

“I am positive that my turn will come soon,” she says.

“I am now at the top of the priority list. People say, ‘aren’t you scared?’ I say no.

“I’m being given a second chance to have a normal life, that’s the biggest gift of all.”

Tina hopes by sharing her story to increase awareness surrounding organ donation in South Africa and in particular, the critical shortage of donors.

“I think if more people knew that by signing a piece of paper they could change someone’s life, the situation would improve,” she says.

Tina was born with a number of congenital heart abnormalities, including an irregular heartbeat, narrowed coronary arteries and pulmonary hypertension.

In other words, she was known as a “blue baby”.

“We had to accept that she had a rare condition that would need constant monitoring,” says her mother Bev.

“Tina has a positive energy and loads of enthusiasm, so it has not always been easy trying to persuade her to slow down.”

Modern medical science, including having two pacemakers, the first when she was 16, has given Tina a quality of life she would not normally have had.

But unlike other donor recipients, a heart transplant on its own is not enough.

She would also need a new set of lungs to cope with a normally beating donor heart.

These days Tina, who prides herself on being an optimist, will admit that things are getting tougher. She requires at least 18 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period and undergoes regular extractions of blood to ease the pressure on her heart.

But the last thing Tina wants is for people to feel sorry for her. “I am a survivor and proud of it,” she says.

    How to get involved

  • Phone the Organ Donor Foundation Toll Free 0800 22 66 11. Or register online at www.odf.org.za
  • Always carry an Organ Donor Card in your wallet and place an Organ Donor Sticker on your ID document and on your driver’s licence.
  • It is most important to discuss the decision with your family. Let them know you want to donate your organs after death. Ask them to honour your wish when you die.
  • October 5 is the Organ Donor Foundation 5 km Walk. 8am from the Durban beachfront amphitheatre. Register on the day. For more details contact Alison Reddi at 082 892 0651.
  • Misconceptions about donating organs How do doctors know I am really dead?
  • Two doctors, who are completely independent of the transplant team, have to perform detailed tests before a person can be declared brain dead. The criteria for brain death are very strictly adhered to and accepted medically, legally and ethically in South Africa and internationally.
  • Does being a donor delay the funeral?
  • No. As soon as the donated organs/tissue has been removed, the body is returned to the family to bury or cremate.
  • Does organ/tissue donation leave my body disfigured?
  • No. The utmost respect and dignity is given to the donor at all times. The recovery of organs and tissue are carried out with great care by surgeons and trained staff and the process does not change the way the body looks.
  • Is there any cost involved in becoming an organ/tissue donor?
  • No, it costs nothing to you or your family.
  • Does my family pay for the cost of donation?
  • No, the hospital or state will cover all medical expenses from the moment of diagnosis of brain death, and your family has given consent for the removal of organs/tissue.
  • Can people buy or sell organs and tissue?
  • No. Organ/tissue donation is a gift of life from one family to another. Trading in organs and tissue is illegal.


The Organ Donor Foundation renamed August “Orgust”, in honour of Organ Donor Month. Under the theme Save Seven Lives, “Orgust” served to highlight the statistic that one person could save seven lives if they donated all their organs.

Countrywide, the need for organs has reached a critical level says ODF Executive Director, Samantha Volschenk.

“There are over 4,300 people throughout South Africa currently awaiting an organ transplant operation,” says Volschenk.

“Many of them are children who are forced to put their childhood dreams on hold, waiting for a suitable donor. Others are adults who could become fully functioning, economically active individuals if they received this precious gift of life.” - The Mercury

* Technically one organ donor can potentially save up to 8 lives - (there are 2 lungs and 2 kidneys). Organs that can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and small intestines. Merv.

“You Have the Power to Donate Life – Sign-up today! to become an organ and tissue donor
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
South Africa, http://www.odf.org.za/
United States, organdonor.gov
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You

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