They were helpless, sick and days away from death when a stranger saved their life.

These Queenslanders share the emotional stories behind their lifesaving transplants and the gratitude they have for the people who kept them alive.

Recently, it was Thank You Day led by DonateLife, which raises awareness for organ and tissue donations and acknowledges living and deceased donors.

Following the tough year it's been, the organisation is calling out for Australians to register to become donors. Donor numbers are 20 per cent down in Queensland with COVID-19 having a direct impact.

With registration events and stalls being cancelled throughout the year due to the pandemic, DonateLife Queensland says their registration numbers are 6000 less than the same time last year.

A selfless act could save someone's life.

Since their transplants, these patients have had the chance to travel the world, watch their kids grow up and meet their grandchildren.

They were given a second chance at life as they share their stories of hope.

Nick Farley had a kidney transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Nick Farley had a kidney transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Nick Farley, 55

I was diagnosed with a kidney disease (Berger's disease) when I was 28. It meant I needed dialysis to survive. I was fully dependant on it for four hours, three times a week for eight months. It's not a life for anyone. My health went downhill quickly and I thought that was it for me. But just as all hope was fading, I got the news a stranger was about to save my life. I was finally going to get a kidney transplant. I'd been waiting years for this and I almost missed the lifesaving opportunity.

I was away near Lakes Entrance in Victoria, about 300km from where I was living in Melbourne at the time when it all happened.

I had no reception and nobody could get hold of me. Next I knew, the police arrived at the doorstep to tell me a kidney was ready for me.

The Royal Melbourne rang my home phone and Mum just so happened to pop in to do some ironing and answered. It was the call saying an organ was ready for me. When nobody could contact me, the police came to find me and tell me.

I was swiftly flown to Melbourne. Having the transplant has given me the gift of life. I have travelled the world, met my beautiful wife and been involved with the Transplant Games. I will always think of the wonderful stranger who saved my life.

I'm sorry for their tragic loss and eternally grateful for their selfless decision to choose organ donation in difficult circumstances. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it.

Colin Manderson had a heart transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Colin Manderson had a heart transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Colin Manderson, 64

I battled with heart failure for 18 years. There was a time in my life I struggled to walk 30 metres without a break, and stairs were terrifying. I went from a healthy strong tradie to a shell of a man. I was first diagnosed in 1998 with cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle, and mine was caused by a virus.

For almost two decades, I was kept alive by a VAD (ventricular assist device, an implanted mechanical pump), a very complicated and restrictive way of living. A transplant was my only chance of survival. In April 2016 I was given a second chance at life.

Without the selfless gesture of my donor I would definitely not be here. I would not have been present at the marriages of our two sons or there to welcome our beautiful granddaughter into this world.

I'm lucky to have been able to contact my donor family and make a connection with them. They are everything; without them and their family's selfless values, I wouldn't be here now.

I'm making the most of my new chance at life. Every single day is so precious, a cliche to many but not for me!

Karen Sander had a heart transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Karen Sander had a heart transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Karen Sander, 60

Growing up I was always very fit, but all of a sudden I noticed my stamina was deteriorating. I was diagnosed with sports-induced asthma in my 20s and kept playing sport.

Along the way, I met my husband Mark and had two children, Jessie and Jayden. I kept up my fit lifestyle but I noticed I'd get breathless and often feel gurgling noises in my chest and have dizzy spells. They all went misdiagnosed.

I was 34 with a two-year-old and a three-week-old baby at the time when I was diagnosed with severe dilated cardiomyopathy. Those gurgling noises were heart failure. I was in serious danger of dying if I didn't receive a new heart.

It was December 1994, after waiting 44 days, when I received the phone call a heart was available. I was scared, because it was major surgery, happy that I would grow old with my husband and live to see my babies grow up (they are now 28 and 26).

But I couldn't help feeling sad. It hit me that for me to have this second chance at life, there was a family grieving for the loss of one of their own.

Without organ and tissue donation and the tremendous selflessness of my donor family, I would not be here today, 26 years later.

I've since competed multiple times in the World Transplant Games and won gold, silver and bronze medals across a range of sports. I never dreamt I'd be able to play sport at the level I can today. I will be forever grateful.

Jordan Bate had a liver transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Jordan Bate had a liver transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Jordan Bate, 21

In my first two months of life, I was diagnosed with a condition called Alagille syndrome, a rare multi-organ condition that affects all organs, but mine was mainly my liver and heart. I was always an unwell kid. I was never allowed to play contact sports because I had brittle bones from my liver not working very well. I never had much quality of life. I was so sick I barely made it to school.

I had been on the waiting list for a transplant for 22 months before I got the call saying there was a liver for me.

It was such an emotional experience. It was April 2016, I was 16 and in grade 12 when a stranger was about to save my life. No amount of words would be enough to thank the donor who gave me their liver.

I was able to complete school and now I've recently graduated as a nurse. I can actually do things I couldn't before, like play sport.

I'm so grateful to be able to plan ahead for my future. But the main thing is not taking life for granted and making sure I enjoy every moment.

I want to use my gift to inspire others and help them in their journey to getting better and I hope to do that as a registered nurse.

Luke Harding had a heart transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Luke Harding had a heart transplant. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Luke Harding, 44

Life can change in a heartbeat.

In 2017, I was a fit and healthy father of two who enjoyed a very active lifestyle until everything changed.

I was finishing up a gym session when I felt some niggling pains in my chest. I thought it was just a strained muscle but my heart rate was unusually high. I went to the GP who referred me on to a cardiologist.

Before I got to the appointment I had severe pain in my upper abdomen and went to hospital. In a matter of hours, I could barely walk.

My heart was inflamed and covered in scar tissue, which meant my heart function was very poor. I was in hospital for a month and then my kidneys began to deteriorate. Doctors couldn't diagnose me. They thought it may have

been giant cell myocarditis or cardiac sarcoidosis.

I was fitted with a subcutaneous defibrillator and put on heart medication to stabilise my condition. This worked for around 12 months before the pain came back and I went downhill. I went into cardiac arrest.

It took an incredible team of doctors and nurses to bring me back to life. I needed a heart transplant to survive. Two months later, I received the call saying a heart was available. I had my transplant in 2018.

There are no words to expressly gratitude to the family which donated their loved one's organs and for the medical team that made this happen. What they both have given me is incredible.

Register to become a donor at donatelife.gov.au

Originally published as Days from death: How strangers saved these people's lives



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