Tweed Heads boy Sean Rice in surgery in 2015 ahead of a life-saving double lung transplant.
Tweed Heads boy Sean Rice in surgery in 2015 ahead of a life-saving double lung transplant. Contributed

Tweed boy cheats death

JUST over one year ago, Tweed Heads mother-of-two Lee-Anne Rice was nine hours away from switching off the machine keeping her youngest child alive.

Her nine-year-old son, Sean, was suffering with terminal lung disease and the doctors at Brisbane's Lady Cilento Children's Hospital had all but given up on saving his young life.

But with just hours to spare, Sean received a life-saving double lung transplant and Ms Rice is now speaking out ahead of DonateLife Thank You Day on Sunday, a national day to acknowledge organ and tissue donors and families that agreed to donation.

 

Lee-Anne Rice with her son Sean who is recovering well after receiving a double lung transplant.
Lee-Anne Rice with her son Sean who is recovering well after receiving a double lung transplant. SCOTT POWICK

"It saves people's lives, it changes people's lives, it gives people a second chance," Ms Rice said.

"It's the best of human nature to be at the lowest point of your life and still consider others and say yes to organ donation."

 

Sean Rice was diagnosed with non-specific interstitial lung disease when he was seven.
Sean Rice was diagnosed with non-specific interstitial lung disease when he was seven. Contributed

Sean, now 10, was born with minor respiratory issues and had undergone two rounds of heart surgery before he was two.

Paediatricians had indicated his condition would improve but he continued to deteriorate and when he was seven he was diagnosed with non-specific interstitial lung disease.

"It was already terminal from diagnosis," Ms Rice said.

Reeling from the diagnosis, the single mother-of-two returned home to Tweed Heads and set about caring for Sean who was on oxygen and needing to be fed via a tube.

"It was surreal," she said.

 

A brave Sean Rice at home before receiving a life-saving transplant.
A brave Sean Rice at home before receiving a life-saving transplant. Contributed

Sean continued to decline and it was only when he contracted a cold and Ms Rice attended Tweed Heads Hospital was she provided with access to support services.

But Sean's health continued to deteriorate and six months later he was placed on life support and with time running out Ms Rice had prepared for the worst.

"He only had hours left and they were going to turn off the button," she said.

"I had asked the hospital social worker if Sean was eligible to be a donor. The social worker had organised a funeral home and how to get his body back to NSW from Brisbane.

"Thankfully a hero family, at the worst time of their life for their loved one, said yes to be a donor and it was a match for my son."

 

Tweed Heads mother-of-two Lee-Anne Rice keeps vigil beside Sean's hospital bed.
Tweed Heads mother-of-two Lee-Anne Rice keeps vigil beside Sean's hospital bed. Contributed

Ms Rice said that family's decision to donate their loved one's organs had given her son a second chance.

"The life support was going to be turned off 7am Sunday morning and he got wheeled into theatre 9.30pm Saturday night," Ms Rice said.

"I don't know how it happened but it happened and Sean survived."

Sean is now well on the road to recovery, has returned to school part-time and last week "jumped on the trampoline properly for the first time".

"His doctors are amazed at how well he is doing," Ms Rice said.

But Ms Rice refuses to forget how close she came to losing her son and is determined to help others in a similar position.

"It's a way of saying thanks to that donor family," she said.

 

I know how horrible it must have been because I was in that same position that very day as well.

 

"For them to say yes at the worst time of their life is truly amazing."

Ms Rice urged all Australians to show their support for DonateLife Thank You Day by joining the Australian Organ Donor Register online and sharing their decision with family and loved ones.

In the first eight months of 2016, a record 958 Australians received an organ transplant through the generosity of 329 deceased organ donors and their families.

About 1400 Australians and their families are still waiting for a transplant with a further 12,000 people on dialysis.

For more information about DonateLife Thank You Day visit donatelife.gov.au/thank-you-day.



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