There’s a saying in the world of organ donation: ‘donation doesn’t just save lives, it transforms them’.
And as the country gears up for Donate Life Week, it’s hard to imagine anyone who better embodies this adage than Tanith Roberts.
Prior to receiving a liver transplant in 2016, the Mullumbimby resident was in a steep downward spiral.
A combination of alcohol and drug addiction had taken a brutal toll on her body and mind – so much so that she attempted to end her own life.
Somewhat paradoxically, this act of despair was ultimately the catalyst for Tanith’s transformation.
The very large dose of Paracetemol she took was the final straw for her beleaguered liver, which went into total failure.
‘From the time I got into an ambulance till the time I got a new liver was 24 hours,’ Ms Roberts says. ‘I went straight to the top of the list because I was so close to dying.’
The young woman was put in a medically induced coma and flown to Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.
‘When I woke up the doctor was right there telling me I’d had a liver transplant,’ she says. ‘I guess I must have been pretty out of it because I remember thinking “Okay, I’ll be home in a couple of days”.’
Instead, that was when the hard work began.
During the course of around five weeks in hospital and months of mental and physical rehabilitation, Tanith realised that she was incredibly fortunate to be alive and that she now had a huge opportunity.
‘I realised really quickly that my story, and how I chose to tell it, could help others,’ she says.
‘I definitely feel a sense of responsibility – that I’ve been given a gift and now I want to give back.’
The 32-year-old now shares her story through public speaking engagements, social media, and mentoring, to help young people better understand drug addiction, mental health challenges, homelessness, and receiving an organ transplant.
She is also studying social welfare, and plans to work directly with young people at the coalface.
There is also a strong desire to spread the word about the power of organ donation.
‘You never know how you’re going to change someone’s life,’ she says.
‘It’s not just that individual, it’s their loved ones, their friends, and all the other people they will engage with over the rest of their lives.’
In 2018, 1,782 Australian lives were transformed by organ donations, with a further 10,500 Australians benefiting from from eye and tissue transplants.
Despite an extensive publicity campaign, many Australians are still unaware that they can no longer register as an organ donor through their driver licence and must do so online.
Donate Life Week is about inspiring people to do just that.
‘It’s so easy to do, but it has the potential to make a massive difference,’ Tanith says.
‘All you need is your Medicare number and five minutes to fill out the form online.’
To register, visit www.donatelife.gov.au.