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‘I’m being given a second chance at life’

Everyone should meet Tina Beckbessinger. She is an absolute inspiration. At 30, when most women are looking forward to a full and healthy life, Tina has only a single mission - to remain strong enough to undergo a heart-lung transplant.

“I am positive that my turn will come soon,” she says.

Tina Beckbessinger with her constant companion, Chloe, at home in Hillcrest.

“I am now at the top of the priority list. People say, ‘aren’t you scared?’ I say no.

“I’m being given a second chance to have a normal life, that’s the biggest gift of all.”

Tina hopes by sharing her story to increase awareness surrounding organ donation in South Africa and in particular, the critical shortage of donors.

“I think if more people knew that by signing a piece of paper they could change someone’s life, the situation would improve,” she says.

Tina was born with a number of congenital heart abnormalities, including an irregular heartbeat, narrowed coronary arteries and pulmonary hypertension.

In other words, she was known as a “blue baby”.

“We had to accept that she had a rare condition that would need constant monitoring,” says her mother Bev.

“Tina has a positive energy and loads of enthusiasm, so it has not always been easy trying to persuade her to slow down.”

Modern medical science, including having two pacemakers, the first when she was 16, has given Tina a quality of life she would not normally have had.

But unlike other donor recipients, a heart transplant on its own is not enough.

She would also need a new set of lungs to cope with a normally beating donor heart.

These days Tina, who prides herself on being an optimist, will admit that things are getting tougher. She requires at least 18 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period and undergoes regular extractions of blood to ease the pressure on her heart.

But the last thing Tina wants is for people to feel sorry for her. “I am a survivor and proud of it,” she says.

How to get involved

Misconceptions about donating organs

Two doctors, who are completely independent of the transplant team, have to perform detailed tests before a person can be declared brain dead. The criteria for brain death are very strictly adhered to and accepted medically, legally and ethically in South Africa and internationally.

No. As soon as the donated organs/tissue has been removed, the body is returned to the family to bury or cremate.

No. The utmost respect and dignity is given to the donor at all times. The recovery of organs and tissue are carried out with great care by surgeons and trained staff and the process does not change the way the body looks.

No, it costs nothing to you or your family.

No, the hospital or state will cover all medical expenses from the moment of diagnosis of brain death, and your family has given consent for the removal of organs/tissue.

No. Organ/tissue donation is a gift of life from one family to another. Trading in organs and tissue is illegal.

SAVE SEVEN LIVES

The Organ Donor Foundation renamed August “Orgust”, in honour of Organ Donor Month. Under the theme Save Seven Lives, “Orgust” served to highlight the statistic that one person could save seven lives if they donated all their organs.

Countrywide, the need for organs has reached a critical level says ODF Executive Director, Samantha Volschenk.

“There are over 4 300 people throughout South Africa currently awaiting an organ transplant operation,” says Volschenk.

“Many of them are children who are forced to put their childhood dreams on hold, waiting for a suitable donor. Others are adults who could become fully functioning, economically active individuals if they received this precious gift of life.” - The Mercury

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