JAMES Ackerman was a good sport on the footy field and doting husband and father, but his greatest legacy is the gift of life.
As horses lined up for the James Ackerman Memorial Race at the Sunshine Coast Turf Club's Corbould Park yesterday, Kaylene Hart knew her late nephew would be watching the action.
James was a keen punter and Kaylene said it was more than a coincidence that saw his memorial race day align with the inaugural DonateLife Thank You Day - a chance for all Australians to acknowledge organ and tissue donors.
"I like to think James was the one who made it happen that way," she said.
James died in June after a football accident and his family honoured his wish to become an organ and tissue donor. It was a decision he had made many years ago.
Kaylene said James had helped a close school friend to cope for many years as their younger sister waited for an urgent liver transplant.
"We watched this poor girl suffer for many years before she was finally able to receive the liver she needed," she said. "Now she is 16 and doing really well. We all discussed it as a family and decided we all wanted to become organ donors."
The Ackerman family also experienced the other side of the process - giving the all-clear for James's wishes to be carried out.
"We are so proud of James - not only with his achievements in life but also the gift of life he gave others through organ and tissue donation," Kaylene said. "James saved the lives of many through donation and he also loved a punt so the fact that the two events have come together is very appropriate."
It was a day of mixed emotions for James's friends and family, who travelled from far and wide to attend the event yesterday.
The fundraiser for the James Ackerman Trust Fund, which will help support his wife Saraa and two small children, Ollie and Milly, was made even more special with his uncle Greg Ryan saddling up in six of the day's eight races.
Although he won race six in the strongest field of horses for the day, riding The Iliad, Greg didn't manage a place on Stainer in the James Ackerman Memorial Race.
DonateLife Queensland spokesperson Kate Stodart said the Ackerman family had been supportive of the organisation.
"They are very keen to see James's legacy remain positive and his donation is a positive thing to come out of such a sad event," she said.
"The first thing people really have to do is let their family know what their donation wishes are because the family will be approached by us and we need them to say yes, even if the person has registered as a donor on the Australian Organ Donor Register.
"That conversation needs to be robust and memorable and you can formalise your decision on the register."
Kate said the majority of registered donors were in their 40s and female.
"What we really need to do is encourage more younger people between the ages of 18 and 29 to register," she said.
Last year, Queensland had 15 donors per million people, which saw 1117 transplant recipients receive 1193 organs.
Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash said yesterday was an important time to acknowledge and honour the roles that families such as the Ackermans play in the donation process by providing vital health information and generously sharing their stories with the public.
"Organ and tissue donation is the ultimate gift, with just one organ and tissue donor able to improve the lives of more than 10 people," she said.
"The gift of organ and tissue donation benefits not just transplant recipients, but their families, friends and society in general.
"For those waiting for a transplant, organ and tissue donation can mean the difference between life and death, being healthy and sick, between seeing and being blind, or being active and never walking again. It enables people to resume an active life in their family, their workplace, their school and their community."
Visit http://www.donatelife.gov.au or call 1800 77 203.
By the numbers
74,400 deaths in hospitals
700 potential donors
680 donation requests
415 consented donors
378 actual donors
Source: Australian Organ and Tissue Authority
Organs transplanted in Australia 2014
Kidneys - 659
Livers - 237
Lungs - 159
Hearts - 79
Pancreas - 54
Heart/lung - 4
Total - 1193
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