Home' Southern Health News : February 2013 Contents 14 / FEBRUARY 2013 / SOUTHERN HEALTH NEWS
‘The level of
is continuing to
increase in the
DR GERRY O’CALLAGHAN
FMC Intensive Care Consultant
Dr Gerry O’Callaghan was
named as a South Australian
finalist in the 2013 Australian of
the Year Awards.
Dr O’Callaghan – an Intensive Care Consultant
at Flinders Medical Centre (FMC) – was recently
named a state finalist in the 2013 Australian of
the Year Awards for his work to improve organ
donation rates through the Australian Organ and
Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority.
“I often think of that time when I was a young
doctor in the Intensive Care Unit and this young
man came in with serious head injuries following a
bad road accident,” Dr O’Callaghan said.
“He became brain dead and I saw his mum going
through his things and hiding his licence because it
said ‘organ donor’.
“So not only did she have to deal with losing her
child in such a dreadful tragedy but she would
have also had to live with doing something that
was contrary to his wishes.
“It really got me thinking about what my
responsibility was to him.’’
Dr O’Callaghan started his career at FMC in 1995,
undertaking his post graduate training in the
Intensive and Critical Care Unit (ICCU).
He then travelled to the United Kingdom in the
early 2000s to take up a post in the Institute of
Liver Studies at Kings College Hospital, where up to
180 liver transplants were performed each year.
“When I was at FMC in the early days there was
a low number of liver donors – only about 22 per
year – and patients with acute liver failure were
waiting up to six days and some of them were
dying waiting for a new liver,” he said.
A career dedicated
to saving lives
BY SARAH GARVIS
Watching a grieving mother hide her son’s driver’s licence – as she battled
with the idea of donating his organs so soon after his tragic death – spurred Dr
Gerry O’Callaghan to dedicate his life to raising awareness of the life-changing
benefits of organ and tissue donation.
“In the UK, people were waiting less than a day for
a liver transplant.
“I became very aware of the responsibility we
have to our patients and their families in giving
them timely information about end of life decision
making and respecting the decisions they make.”
Dr O’Callaghan returned to FMC at the end of
2001 and was assigned responsibility for managing
organ donation within the ICCU.
In the following years, Dr O’Callaghan was called
on to contribute to the development of significant
national legal and ethical policy, awareness and
education around organ and tissue donation that
would help govern hospitals across the country.
“It was a very exciting time as a young consultant to
be part of such major clinical practice improvements.
“And we started to test the idea that donation
rates might be improved if organs could be
donated after cardiac death.”
In 2006, Dr O’Callaghan spearheaded Australia’s
first multi-organ donation after cardiac death at
FMC, in collaboration with Dr John Chen and FMC
Organ Donor Coordinator Catherine Hannan.
He said organ and tissue donation was more widely
recognised on the national stage when Kevin
Rudd was elected as Prime Minister in 2007.
“The Prime Minister had a tissue aortic valve
replacement, so he understood something that
a lot of people don’t understand – that organ
donation doesn’t happen very often.
“Only 1 per cent of people who die in hospital are
eligible for organ donation.
“He knew that because so few people could
become organ donors, it would require significant
investment to change the situation.”
In 2009, Mr Rudd appointed Dr O’Callaghan as
the first Medical Director of the Australian Organ
and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority.
During his three-year stint, he was instrumental in
helping to boost organ donation rates by 30 per
cent. He has now returned to FMC’s ICCU.
“Organ and tissue donation is now at a very
exciting and crucial point – it must become core
business for health.
“The level of approval for organ donation is
continuing to increase in the community and we
know that when the wishes of the patient are
known, consent rates for organ donation are 90
“It’s important to understand and respect the
decision that the person had made or would’ve
In the coming years, Dr O’Callaghan plans to
undertake a study, where he will speak to families
who said no to organ donation and how they feel
about their decision in retrospect.
DonateLife Week 2013 FEATURE
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