When Louis Hehir speaks to his classmates about organ donation, he does so with a passion that comes from a life-changing personal experience.
The Year 12 Kardinia International College student has had two kidney transplants in his 18 years. The second was donated by his mother Veronica when he was in Year 9, after a previous transplant from when he was five failed.
Louis is an articulate advocate and campaigner for Australia moving to a system where people would automatically become organ donors upon their death unless they decide to opt out. Under the current system, Australians must opt in to become donors.
Louis, along with friends and fellow students Kurtis Brandt and Ben Larcombe-Brooks, has recently been raising awareness among senior students at the school.
In a speech to students, Louis talked about the importance of registering to be a donor and why Australia should adopt an opt out policy.
As Louis says, it’s an important time to get the message across to students. To register as an organ donor, you have to be 16 or over.
He’s finding a responsive audience. ‘A lot of students have been getting actively involved,’ he says.
The campaigning by Louis (pictured above with College Principal David Fitzgerald) extends well beyond the classroom. Last year, he had talks with federal minister Ken Wyatt, and he’s organising a petition urging the government to prioritise organ donation in our hospitals and improve the medical processes which will result in more transplants.
He’s also involved with Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation, created in honor of Zaidee Turner. In 2004, Zaidee, aged only seven, died from a burst blood vessel in her brain – a Cerebral Aneurysm.
The Turner family had been on the organ donor register for five years, and Zaidee’s organs and tissues helped seven people – in some cases saving their lives.
The figures demonstrate the task ahead. In 2017, out of the estimated 162,500 Australians who died, there were only 510 organ donors. This was only seven more than the year before. Transplant rates actually fell.
Louis is aiming to help people waiting for years for a donor. He spent his 10th birthday hooked up to a dialysis machine, and he has friends who have been on the waiting list up to 20 years. ‘I feel that something needs to change,’ he says. ‘I believe the opt out policy is the best outcome.’
One of the concerns is whether everyone in the community would have the literacy required to understand the way the system would work. To overcome that, Louis and others are proposing a two–year education campaign.
Beyond his campaigning, Louis also wants to contribute in a practical way, with plans to train as a nurse and return to work at the Royal Children’s Hospital, where he received his care.
Louis featured recently on the ABC News. You can watch the story on the Facebook page of Kardinia International College.
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