Skin transplant recipient Dawn Traill loves it when people ask about her scars and takes the opportunity to raise awareness about organ donation.
Dawn is sharing her story as part of DonateLife Week and said she had come to appreciate the scars as a reminder of how grateful she was for the donor skin that healed her.
Dawn was injured in a terrible accident at 15 years old when a friend threw methylated spirits onto a backyard fire, exploding the fire and causing third-degree burns to 30% of her body.
Dawn was rushed to Longreach hospital and then flown to Brisbane to be treated at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, spending 12 days in an induced coma in ICU and eight weeks in the burns unit.
Doctors later told Dawn that, at that time, her organs were failing and she was suffering from infections, which meant she needed time before grafts of her own skin could be taken.
While in ICU, Dawn had synthetic skin grafts and donor skin grafts, which gave her body much need time to heal.
That was just the beginning of Dawn’s long recovery process, which involved 11 surgeries, two years in pressure garments and countless hours of physiotherapy, as well as years of travelling from rural Longreach to Brisbane for monthly treatment.
Dawn now works at Bundaberg Hospital, and although she still has ongoing treatment with her surgery number 12 planned for later this year, she is a vibrant and confident young woman who is happy to talk about her experience.
“I love when people ask me about [my scars] because not many people know about burns, and donor's tissue and skin and grafting,” Dawn said.
“I didn't realise how much having skin transplant, from myself and other people, benefited me.”
“Now I'm healed and my skin is much more pliable, it's my own, it's other people's but it's good.”
Bundaberg Hospital Organ Donation Specialist Nurse Karen Jenner said Australia did not have a skin bank when the Bali bombings occurred in 2002 and had since set up multiple skin banks in Australian capital cities.
“DonateLife Queensland now supply lifesaving skin transplants to Aussies, like people in the Ravenshoe disaster, as well as Turia Pitt and several of the White Island disaster victims, who are now living their lives through the generous donation of skin,” Karen said.
“When skin is donated, only a thin layer is taken, like the skin that peels in sunburn.”
Karen said the skin is usually taken from the donor’s back and the back of their legs.
Donate a minute to give someone a lifetime
As part of DonateLife Week, held from Sunday 23 July to Sunday 30 July, Australians are being encouraged to donate one minute to register to be an organ and tissue donor.
Australian Government research has found 80% of Australians support organ and tissue donation, but fewer than half of this number are actually registered.
Registering is quick and simple, and can be done either at donatelife.gov.au or within the Medicare app.
DonateLife organisers also urge people to tell family members about their wish to be a donor, as research shows families are much more likely to support organ donation if they knew their loved one wanted to be a donor.
Dawn said registering as an organ donor is a conversation everyone should have with their family.
“I just say to them ‘what are you going to take with you when you go in the ground?’,” Dawn said.
“It doesn't benefit you, it benefits everyone, the people that need your liver and kidneys.”
Now several years after the accident, Dawn said she had made a lot of progress in physical healing and rebuilding her self-esteem.
“I couldn't be more grateful and happier,” Dawn said.
“Yeah, there are days, but you know what? I'm here and I'm still living, and my scars are my story.”
More information on organ and tissue donation can be found at donatelife.gov.au.