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‘Talk to your family about organ donation,' Mum pleads after son's death

Karen Carpenter, pictured with her late son Adam, is encouraging parents to talk with their children about organ donation.

Gold Coast mum Karen Carpenter had so many hopes and dreams for her son Adam Chaffey.

Five years ago, she watched two ambulances race down the street. Although unaware, at the time, that paramedics were responding to a Triple 0 call regarding her 21-year-old son, in her heart she knew something was terribly wrong.

Adam – father to a, then, almost two-year-old boy – had been going through tough times and had tried to take his own life.

“Not long before I had lost my dad,” Karen said. “I started talking to my (late) dad and begging him not to let Adam join him.”

Paramedics managed to get Adam breathing again, but he had been 23 minutes without oxygen.

Adam’s family would spend the next week by his bedside in Gold Coast University Hospital Intensive Care Unit and was advised he was unlikely to survive without life support.

“I told Adam, ‘If you’re not going to wake up and be you again, then go be with pop.’ “

Adam – Karen’s cheeky, mischievous son, who would do anything for anyone – passed away in early 2018.

“At school he was always getting himself into trouble for standing up for other people,” Karen remembers.

“He was often late home from work because he would stop to help someone change a tyre on the side of the road.”

These are the moments Karen clung to in Adam’s final hours.

“I had never talked to Adam about organ donation, because as parents you always assume you will go first,” Karen said.

“Mandy Leitch (from DonateLife Queensland) was incredibly supportive. She asked how I felt about donating Adam’s organs and tissue, and I didn’t hesitate. I said ‘yes’ immediately.

“Adam was always wanting to help people, so I knew he would be happy with that decision, that his family chose for someone else to have a better life and more opportunities.”

Through cards and letters exchanged anonymously with organ and tissue recipients, “I know that at least two people can see because of Adam’s donation,” Karen said.

A man received Adam’s lungs.

“That recipient has seen grandchildren come into the world, he’s travelling overseas and caravanning,” Karen said.

“This is what I always hoped for.”

She thinks back to her hopes and dreams for Adam.

“Of course, I wish that my son was the one going through all those life experiences, but it is nice to know others are enjoying moments in life they never thought they would have.”

In Australia, anyone 16 years and older can sign up to the organ and tissue donor register.

Karen believes that many parents are reluctant to talk with their children about organ donation, “as if they’re tempting fate,” she said.

As difficult as that conversation may be, it could save someone’s life.

1,800 Australians are currently on the organ and tissue donation waitlist, 32 of those are under the age of 18.

The Gold Coast is lagging when it comes to donor registrations, with just 32% of eligible people having already signed up. The national average is 36%.

DonateLife’s Mandy reveals, “When it comes to those aged 16-24, just one in 10 are registered.”

“Many people don’t realise how quick and easy it is to register online at, or just three taps in your Medicare App,” she said.

“It only takes one minute to register - and that minute could mean a lifetime to someone else.”

Karen believes older teens and young adults are the best people to drive the conversation.

When Karen recently attended a DonateLife event on the Gold Coast, she deliberately spoke with the young women in attendance.

“I told them, when you’re young you think you are invincible, but I lost my son when he was just 21. So go home tonight and talk to your mum and dad about organ donation,” she said, “Don’t put it off.”

Karen is supporting DonateLife's Jersey Day on 1 September 2023. Jersey Day encourages families to start the conversation about organ and tissue donation.
Learn more about Jersey Day, and how you can get involved, here.

Last updated 30 Aug 2023