JUSTIN Negri literally holds your life in his hands when he performs his intricate transplant surgery at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne.
The cardiothoracic surgeon who has helped give hundreds of ill people a new lease of life knows the importance of organ donors.
He performs up to 25 heart transplants a year and dozens of intricate heart rebuilds — including one on Warrnambool man Peter Holscher, who had his aortic and mitral valves and the entire aortic root replaced last September.
“There’s a lot of emotion involved in this work, but it’s very rewarding at the end,” Mr Negri told The Standard.
“Especially in Peter’s case to see him recover with the prospect of a full life ahead of him.”
Earlier, 58-year-old Mr Holscher faced an agonising future on a transplant waiting list stretching more than two-and-a-half years.
About 15 years earlier his aortic valve had been replaced and about 20 years before that he had cancer treatment.
Tests showed a transplant would be problematic and he opted for high-risk surgery which had a one-in-four chance of failure.
“I explained to him in time he may receive a transplant, but there is a 15 to 20 per cent mortality rate while waiting,” Mr Negri said.
“We said we could perform an operation, but the risk was greater than the risk of a transplant.
“For Peter the risk was a 25 per cent chance of dying on the table.
“I take my hat off to him, he was prepared to take the risk.
“We perform this type of surgery less than once a year.
“Effectively we rebuilt his heart — the soft tissues had calcified.”
Both surgeon and patient have urged people to discuss becoming an organ donor.
“Donors don’t grow on trees. We are in desperate need of more,” Mr Negri said.
The Alfred is Victoria’s only heart and lung transplant hospital, performing 20 to 25 heart and 60 to 90 lung transplants annually.
“I would encourage families to have the conversation around the table because if they find themselves with a loved one in a fatal situation it’s difficult to make that decision,” Mr Negri said.
“It’s a horrible time for a medical representative to approach them and ask if the person would like to donate an organ.
“Often this can be a taboo subject and people don’t want to have that conversation.
“But donor numbers are increasing.”
For Mr Holscher his message is simple — do it today, because tomorrow may never come.
“If there are more donors the waiting list is shorter and the survival rate is much higher,” he said.
Nationally, about 1600 people are on Australian organ transplant waiting lists.
Last year 354 organ donors gave 1052 Australians a new chance in life, according to DonateLife.
Less than 60 per cent of families give consent for organ and tissue donation to proceed and 44 per cent of Australians do not know or are not sure of the donation wishes of their loved ones.
Details on how to become a donor are on the DonateLife website.