February is an "incredibly special" month for 13-year-old Canberra girl Samantha Kapustin. This month, she started secondary school at Belconnen High. She is also helping to promote the first virtual DonateLife walk during February. And February 3 marked the first anniversary of Samantha's life-saving liver transplant.
The teenager was born with a rare liver disease called Biliary Atresia which severely compromised her liver function.
Two years ago, Samantha's health declined dramatically. She was experiencing a lot of pain, constant itchiness and was drained of all energy. Samantha's quality of life was being severely impacted.
In July 2019, Samantha's doctors listed her for a liver transplant. After seven months and one false start, Samantha underwent a successful liver transplant operation in February 2020.
"We are extremely grateful that another family made the selfless and generous decision to donate their loved one's organs", Samantha's father Tim Kapustin said.
"This became Samantha's second chance at life. Samantha looks and feels so much better. She can participate in life again."
Samantha says she's "up for doing things again".
And she believes that among her friends and teachers there is little understanding of organ donation and the transplant process. She would like to change that and help raise awareness.
That is why she is keen to participate in Gift of Life's virtual DonateLife Walk, which takes place February 22-28. The walk is usually a mass-participation event around Lake Burley Griffin. The organisers' concerns about COVID-19 have seen them take it virtual this year.
Gift of Life president and corneal recipient Catherine Scott says ACT has one of the nation's lowest organ donor registration rates at just 24 per cent. The national average is 34 per cent. The walk is a conversation starter about organ donation.
"We are encouraging people to gather in small groups, walk up to 5km and share their walk photos on social media to help raise awareness of organ and tissue donation. The more people talk about donation, the more likely people are to take the next step and put their name on the Australian Organ Donor Register."
The Australian Organ and Tissue Authority earlier this month released its annual outcomes data, outlining Australia's deceased organ donation and transplantation rates for 2020.
There was a 12 per cent decrease in the number of people receiving a transplant and a 16 per cent decrease in the number of donors compared to 2019 due to the impact of COVID-19.
The federal minister responsible for the authority, Mark Coulton, says there is a simple way to improve these figures.
"The best chance we have to address the challenge of a longer waitlist is to have more Australians say 'yes' to donation," he said.
Sign up for the walk at www.giftoflife.asn.au.
- Share your walk photos and videos on social media using the hashtags #giftoflifewalk #giftoflifewalk2021 #donatelife #giftoflife. Follow and tag the Gift of Life Walk on Instagram and Facebook at @giftoflifewalk.