For 26 years Tina Coco AO has devoted her life to advocating organ and tissue donation and transplantation services in Queensland.
The QUT Outstanding Alumni awards, presented at a ceremony in Brisbane, recognise outstanding graduates of the university (and predecessor institutions), who have displayed exceptional professional, academic or research achievements and contributions to the community.
Ms Coco, Clinical Manager and Nursing Director of DonateLife Queensland, embarked on postgraduate study at QUT to enhance her skills and knowledge following her hospital-based nursing training. She completed a Diploma of Applied Sciences in Nursing Management in 1990 and Graduate Certificate in Health Management in 2003.
She also gained a Diploma of Advanced Transplantation Coordination from the University of Barcelona and is certified as a European Transplant Coordinator. In 2015 she achieved a Masters in Organ, Tissue and Cell Donation for Transplantation with the university – the only Australian to do so – and is a faculty member, teaching the international course on Transplant Procurement Management for the past decade.
“My subject is donor family care, which includes teaching acute bereavement care and communication skills to intensive care doctors, nurses and donation staff,” she said. “My focus is on supporting donor families in the ICU and how to have the donation conversation at that critical time for the family.
“I was also fortunate to train medical and nursing teams in donation at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. These overseas opportunities provided an insight into how donation is practised in other parts of the world with different cultures and religions, and helped me become more rounded in my own teaching here at home.”
Ms Coco’s interest in organ donation first began while working at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, as a theatre nurse involved in kidney and liver transplant surgeries. She was captured by a burning curiosity to know more about the generous souls whose gifts would change her patients’ lives. In 1991, when the position of Senior Donor Transplant Coordinator became available, she jumped at it.
“Organ donation was such a rare event and still is,” she said. “In Queensland last year there were 106 donations across the whole state.
“Yet when an organ becomes available it is a call to action to a large group of about 50 health professionals from the ICU, operating theatre, pathology, radiology, the tissue typing lab, the blood bank and even the Queensland Government Air Wing.
“In the early ’90s, donor coordination was a new field and there was no real structure or system in place.
“I wanted to make sure there was a system of quality care for the families of donors across our whole vast state at a time of acute bereavement for them and, as donation is anonymous, for families to know that they and their loved one’s gift is valued and not forgotten.”
Ms Coco founded Queensland’s Annual Services of Remembrance in 1992 to publicly acknowledge the altruistic gift of donors and their families. These remembrance services are now held at 10 locations throughout the state.
Earlier this year she was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to community health as a leader and advocate for organ and tissue and transplantation coordination organisations nationally and internationally.
She said it was humbling to receive recognition on behalf of all her colleagues who have a great passion for organ and tissue donation.
“I work in a medical area where people do amazing, cutting-edge work. I’m part of a magnificent team, and everything I have ever achieved has been because of that team and their commitment.
“Our goal is to ensure every Queenslander has that conversation with their family members about their organ donation wishes. Ultimately, the most comfort for the family will come when they have honoured their loved ones wishes – whether the answer is yes or no.”
Karen Milliner, QUT Media, 07 3138 1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org
After hours, Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901 or email@example.com
QUT Outstanding Alumni Award winner for the Faculty of Health, Tina Coco.
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