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Reflections on a second chance

5 August 2015

Charissa Simpson no longer celebrates her birthday, instead she celebrates the day her life began anew following a lifesaving organ transplant.

In May, on the shores of Flying Fish Point, Charissa marked the second anniversary of her successful heart transplant by releasing a wreath of flowers into the ocean.

It is on these days, she says, her precious gift beats louder in her chest.

In 2012, 23-year-old Charissa pulled into her Innisfail driveway after a road trip with her older brother in bad shape.

She thought she had been suffering a prolonged asthma attack and presented to Innisfail Hospital at about 1pm on 6 November.

Less than a week later, Charissa had been transferred to Cairns Hospital and onto Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane with a heart functioning at just five per cent.

Carissa had been diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy and needed open heart surgery to install an artificial pump to keep her alive while she waited on the organ transplant list.

For seven-and-a-half months Charissa waited at Prince Charles Hospital as her condition deteriorated but she never giving up hope that a heart would arrive.

“Every day becomes about getting the transplant, there are times that you cry your eyes out but you just know that the call could come anytime and that keeps you going when you just want to give up,” she said.

“That time waiting really is a no man’s land, you desperately want the heart to come but you know what it means if it does – that someone else has lost their whole world. It is a difficult gift to receive.”

In May, 2013, Charissa received her new heart and 10 days later was released from hospital with a clean bill of health.

Now 26, Charissa has been a vocal advocate of organ and tissue donation speaking at last year’s DonateLife Service of Remembrance and hosting an art exhibition in Innisfail to raise funds for heart research at Prince Charles Hospital.

During DonateLife week, Charissa is urging the Far Northern community to have a discussion with their family about organ and tissue donation.

DonateLife Week is the national awareness week to promote organ and tissue donation in Australia and this year will be held from 2 August until 9 August.

Cairns Hospital Intensive Care Doctor and Organ Donation Specialist Dr Angus Carter said that it is only through the altruistic generosity of donor families that organ donation brings improved quality of life and survival to organ donation recipients.

“There is no greater gift. Family members must talk to each other regarding their own wishes whilst they are alive so that if tragedy is to befall them, their loved ones know how to answer the question: would they have wanted to be an organ donor?,” he said.

In 2014, 1,177 Australians received an organ transplant through the generosity of 378 organ donors whose families agreed to donation at the time of their death.

Although three in four Australians have discussed the subject with family members, only 51% of people know their loved ones’ organ donation decisions.

Last updated: 7 August 2015