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Selfless strangers give a second chance at life

SURVIVORS: Jenny Zerner and John Dower wouldn't be here without the gift of organ donations.
SURVIVORS: Jenny Zerner and John Dower wouldn't be here without the gift of organ donations. Jacob Carson

FREQUENT trips to the hospital have never bothered Gympie man John Dower, but the news he received from his doctor in 1994 was harrowing to say the least.

Born with a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot, Mr Dower had several surgeries to heal his heart but found out a transplant was his only means of survival.

"The transplant team and all of my health care professionals were amazing and all of the ongoing care over the past 23 years has been extraordinary,” he said.

"The impact that this gift has had on us as a family cannot be expressed in words.”

Fellow Gympie transplant recipient Jenny Zerner knows all too well the immense sacrifice and gift donors provide to the needy.

It's been nearly 10 years since her transplant, after her liver began to fail and shrink.

"As a family member and loved one, what greater gift can you give to another human being?” she said.

"What nobody tells you about though, is that it's as much about an emotional and psychological recovery as it is a physical one.”

Mrs Zerner speaks candidly about the flood of emotions she felt in the months after her transplant.

From the fear of leaving the safe space of hospital accommodation, the uncertainty if an organ could be found in time or most importantly the circumstances surrounding the donation.

"I felt guilty, because what saved me and many others often comes at the cost of tragedy for another,” she said.

"My transplant came in the middle of what people call 'the silly season', and I wouldn't be surprised if an accident was what led to me getting the liver.”

The high level of confidentiality surrounding organ transplants can also lead to unanswered questions and an unsatisfied curiosity for recipients.

Both Mr Dower and Mrs Zerner believe they're the lucky ones, considering an ever-growing waiting list many sick Queenslanders have to endure.

They're sharing their story to encourage more locals to register as donors and honour the selfless actions of those who do.

The appeal comes as a record number of Queenslanders are more than willing to sign up, but data shows the state is rapidly falling behind the national average.

"Registering is absolutely vital,” Health Minister Cameron Dick said.

"In 2016, 323 patients received transplants at public hospitals, thanks to the generosity of 106 donors and the skill and dedication of clinicians.”

DonateLife Queensland state manager Tina Coco said good intentions could only go so far.

"Life is busy and people find it hard to make time to register and discuss their wishes,” she said.

"If there's no urgency, it just falls off the radar.”

For those looking to register, info can be found at www.donatelife.gov.au.

Topics:  jenny zerner john dower organ donations organ donors

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