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Stephanie Brawitt: Isle of Wight survivor’s skin transplant saved her life as DonateLife appeals for donors


Stephanie Brawitt, a survivor of the White Island volcano, has urged all Australians aged 16 and over to become organ and tissue donors after discovering a “horrendous” shortage meant skin had to be flown in from the US to help her survive.

After suffering third-degree burns to 70 per cent of her body on a horrific trip to New Zealand in 2019 that killed her father Paul and sister Crystal, Ms Brawitt needed skin from at least 10 donors as a “biological dressing”.

“Dozens of other Australians were affected by the eruption, so hospitals did not receive donated skin and had to order a significant amount from the US,” she said.

“In Australia we face a shortage of skin donations when it comes to mass causal events such as the Bali bombings, Black Saturday, the Isle of White.

“It’s scary – our country suffers from major forest fires almost every year.”

DonateLife’s Great Registration Drive added 60,000 people to the Australian Organ Donor Register in June, July and August – a result that Organ and Tissue Authority chief executive Lucinda Barry said gave “hope to the 1,750 patients currently on the organ transplant waiting list “.

Ms Brawitt agreed the figure was “encouraging”, given that one organ donor could save up to seven lives and help many more through eye and tissue donation.

But with research showing four out of five Australians support organ and tissue donation but only one in three have registered, Ms Brawitt asked: “Why don’t we have an opt-out system?”

“A lot of people tell themselves they’re going to sign up, but forget or procrastinate,” she said.

Australians must opt-in for organ and tissue donation after death, while countries such as England, the Netherlands and Colombia have opt-out policies that require consent unless the person indicates otherwise.

While it only takes one minute to register as a donor, 13 million Australians have yet to do so.

Ms Barry said that despite a major registration drive that has boosted registrations and sparked important family conversations about donation, “there is still a lot more to do”.

“It’s never been easier to sign up – it takes less than a minute at donatelife.gov.au or just three clicks in your Medicare application,” she said.

Numbers in 2022 are up 1 percent from 2020, which was a record year for registrations, before 2021 knocked out 108,000 participants. But 2021 is considered an anomaly due to an unusually high number of people applying to Medicare for Covid vaccination certificates.

Ms Bravitt said she “wouldn’t be alive” without the donor skin tissue. Her open wounds had to be covered with donor skin for months until the remaining healthy skin could be transplanted.

“Once they took from where I had healthy skin, they had to wait for it to heal before they could take more,” she said.

She added that she often thought of her donors and their families as “savior angels.”

“I wouldn’t be here with my mom if it wasn’t for them,” she said.

Also in her and mom Marie’s thoughts every day are Paul and Crystal. “We love them, it’s hard not having them around,” she said.

After having the “painful and uncomfortable” compression bandages removed in June, Ms Bravitt said she “loved experimenting with my make-up and my wardrobe”, returned to socializing and felt “the sun and the breeze on my face”.

She hopes the next step in her remarkable recovery will be access to CO2 laser treatment to make her scars “less red (and) hopefully fade over time,” allowing her body to move more.

“I will always be part of the burn unit at The Alfred Hospital, operations will continue. But the plan now is to get back to life,” she said.

“I’m doing everything I can to make the most of my second chance.”

This included attitudes towards protecting burn victims and important causes such as organ and tissue donation using platforms such as TikTok (where she has 1.7 million followers) and Instagram (124,000 subscribers).

“While I was recovering in hospital, it was very difficult for me to talk to people – no one could understand what I was going through,” she said.

“I found myself trying to find people online or reading other people’s stories online who may have experienced serious burns. There weren’t many of them – I knew about Turia Pit, but I didn’t know the others.

“That’s why I felt it was important to share my story and my recovery online, to be open and so raw, because I was looking for it to help me in my recovery.

“It surprises me that people look at me, try to ask for help. I try to answer as many people (who write to me) as possible.



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