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The Gift of Life Two Decades On

The medical team who saved me described it as a miracle

Twenty years ago I faced a sudden unexpected crisis. I had enjoyed a very interesting and varied life during a career with the Australian Diplomatic Service, most recently as head of our Consulate-General in Noumea. I was in good health and happily married with two teenage sons.

I travelled to Papua New Guinea leading an Australian conference delegation and then joined Foreign Minister Gareth Evans to visit New Caledonia. On the way home, I was struck by acute hepatitis and admitted to Canberra Hospital. As my condition deteriorated, I was transferred to the Austin Hospital in Melbourne. The option of transplantation was explained and my wife and I agreed, if my condition worsened, it was the only resort. I then entered into a coma with less than a day to live. The medical team who saved me described it as a miracle - to survive in that condition and to receive a matching liver in such a short time-frame. For me and my young family it felt much more than that. After convalescence, we gradually returned to normal life as a family and I resumed my career. More importantly, it led to much closer bonding between us and with our friends who lent us enormous support during the upheaval.

I worked for fifteen years afterwards and became head of the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong. After retirement I decided to do whatever I could to promote greater awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation. This reflected not only my strong appreciation of the special gift I had received, but also the fact that each year in this country the waiting list for transplants far exceeds the number of organs available and many people die waiting. I am currently President of Gift of Life, advocating organ and tissue donation in the ACT and surrounding districts, which also contributes nationally and organises the annual community DonateLife Walk around the lake in Canberra.

My family is forever indebted to the skill and compassion shown to us over many years by the Austin liver transplant team and to the extraordinary generosity of the donor family - who remain unknown to us. You have made our lives since immeasurably better. You are never far from our thoughts. Thank you all sincerely. I hope my story and the fact that I am still able to contribute energetically two decades on will help inspire others to become donors.

Nicky Burton