Some time ago, Professor Stephen Cordner asked if I would create a sculpture around the theme of tissue donation using DTBV’s visual identity of a giving and a receiving hand as the centre piece. The sculpture is to be installed in the new Donor Tissue Bank building when it opens as part of the the redevelopment of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Southbank.
I was asked to create a sculpture that captured more than just a giving and a receiving hand – many, many discussions with staff from VIFM/DTBV ensued and a great many hours were spent exploring how to design an inanimate, three dimentional object in such a way as to do justice to such a sensitive, emotional and important subject. A subject so complex and perhaps little understood by the broader community.
The work has now been completed and it was delivered to the Donor Tissue Bank late last week where it is now in a temporary location in building’s foyer – able to be viewed by staff and visitors. When the new building is complete, the sculpture will move to it’s permanent home and be installed on the forecourt main entrance of the Donor Tissue Bank – able to be seen by visitors, passers-by and of course staff.
I experienced mixed feelings when the sculpture was delivered. Initially it was hard to let go of something that had been such a big part of my life for so many months, but as it was placed in it’s temporary position, and as I had the opportunity to chat with staff who stopped to look, I felt a wonderful, peaceful feeling – a great sense that it was now home!
The timing for it’s temporary installation was important as today is Leaf Day.
DTBV maintains a Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a mural of a stylised tree to which leaves of differing colours are attached. The tree has a range of green, yellow and red leaves that reflect the cycle of seasons and grief responses. Each leaf bears the first name of the tissue donor and is placed on the tree at the end of every month. Twelve months later the tree is full of donor leaves, reflecting and celebrating the vast contribution donors and their families have made over the year to help others.
Leaf Day is an opportunity for families who have allowed this incredible gift to occur, to come together with DTBV staff to reflect, to hear of the importance and benefits of tissue donation and to see their leaf on the Tree of Life.
Today was so moving on so many levels. The Deputy Director of VIFM, Associate Professor David Ransom, Dr Marisa Herson (burns surgeon, senior lecturer in surgery and former head of DTBV), Professor Brian Dean(Mental Health research Institute), Susan Dickie (Nurse Manager DTBV) and Stefan Poniatowski (current head of DTBV) shared their professional and personal stories. Anyone listening would have been deeply moved by the emotion and the depth of feeling exposed in both the professional and the personal journey each of the speakers has experienced.
I have no doubt that the families and loved ones who were there today, would have been deeply comforted by the obvious care and compassion and respect and gratifude that each speaker demonstrated for the wonderful gift the families had made. The gift that would allow someone, or maybe more than one person, to have a better and perhaps a longer life. Also the gift to medical research that might assist in finding a cure for disease in order that other families don’t suffer the same heartache and grief that that they have experienced.
The experience for me was equally moving – the privilege of being part of today – of having the opportunity to talk to the families and loved ones and hear their stories and their emotions and to explain my work to them was so very special.
It has been an amazing journey, and like all journeys, it has had its ups and its downs, its challenges and its pure joy.
I would like to thank Peter Morley, Robert Sinclair and all the amazingly talented artisans at Meridian Sculpture Foundry for their wonderful work and their patience and guidance with me, and the sculptor Rudi Jass from Jass Design for his work, advice, assistance, patience (again!) and teaching – I couldn’t have done it without you all!
My artist wife and my life partner has been an amazing help – with a critical, contructive eye and frequent suggestions when I was struggling to find a way forward .
Most importantly I would like to thank Professor Stephen Cordner, Director of the Victorian Insitute of Forensic Medicine – who placed his trust in me and who had the confidence to ask me to make this work.
Finally, I would ask all who read this blog to think about tissue/organ donation, and to ask their friends and family and work mates to think about it. Other countries have proportionately far higher numbers of donors – we can do better in Australia – we can give someone else the gift of a better life – perhaps even life itself – and we can provide an opportunity for medical researchers to find cures for the diseases that claim too many lives.
We should all have that difficult discussion with our family and make our wish to be a tissue/organ donor very clear. Perhaps it is time we had a community debate around the idea that the current opt-in arrangements be replaced by an opt-out system!
…until next time…