WA’s only tissue bank changes lives


Harry during his treatment for bone cancer.

It was June 2010 when Victoria O’Neill first noticed her son Harry was swimming without the use of his left arm.

Later that night Harry, 9, woke up crying in pain. The following week he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer).

“From thinking he had nothing wrong with his arm to having cancer was a huge slap in the face,” Mrs O’Neill said.

Harry went on to have 18 rounds of chemotherapy and major surgery to remove the cancer from his arm and shoulder.

The cancerous bone was replaced with a donor bone from Pluslife, WA’s only bone and tissue bank.

Just a few weeks ago, Pluslife was on the verge of having to close its doors.

Plus life managing director Anne Cowie said Hollywood Hospital had given Pluslife notice that it needed to relocate from its current space by December this year.

A property in Midland had been leased but PlusLife did not have the funds to build the necessary extension to allow the organisation to move.

“We were in jeopardy, and we would have been closed by Christmas had the funding not been committed in the state budget,” Ms Cowie said.

An application for funding was made, and the State Government allocated $10 million in the budget to the expansion and relocation of the Pluslife facilities.

The new facility will include more clean-rooms and a new research laboratory.

The facility will allow Pluslife to develop new grafts and conduct its own research.

Ms Cowie said she hoped the capital grant would also increase awareness about tissue donation.

“We’ve run a very good service for 23 years, we’ve just been operating under the radar,” she said.


A drawing of the new Plusflife premises by architects Cameron Chism & Nicol.

“This will hopefully raise our profile.

“Tissue donation is not as well known as organ donation.

“But without donors and donor families making the amazing gift of donation, we could not do this work.

“We are committed to raising awareness of tissue donation in the community.”

Orthopaedic surgeon and co-founder of the Hollywood Orthopaedic Group, Sean Williams, said the media was more focused on organ donation than tissue and bone.

“The media hasn’t emphasised a lot of the need for bone in cosmetic surgery, it hasn’t been as topical,” he said.

“Pluslife allows us to use bone in a number of orthopaedic procedures.”

Mr Williams said the capital grant would have an impact on Pluslife and the wider community.

“Pluslife also supplies bone to a number of other states in Australia, so it’s important not just in WA but Australia-wide too,” he said.

Tissue donation refers to the donation of bone, tendons, ligaments, corneas, heart valves and skin.

Unlike organs, which only last a number of hours outside the body, tissue can be stored for up to five years before use.

In some circumstances tissue transplant can save lives but, more often, it  improves the recipient’s wellbeing and mobility.

In Harry’s case, he was able to keep his arm and still maintain 40 per cent use.

“People don’t even know there’s anything wrong with him because he has his arm,” Mrs O’Neill said.

“Without Pluslife, life would be different for so many people, including Harry.

“They’ve helped so many people and they’ve helped us. We are forever in their debt.”

For more information about organ and tissue donation, visit the DonateLife website at

Categories: Health