Colin de Grussa spent years of his youth grappling with bouts of excruciating back pain as he worked the family farm in Esperance.

And only now – more than two decades later – has the Agricultural Region MLC come to understand the important role an anonymous bone donor played in his ability to reclaim his life and mobility, helping him to run his first half marathon this year.

The Nationals WA politician is sharing his experience as part of DonateLife Week 2023 in an effort to raise greater awareness about the important work of PlusLife, Western Australia’s bone and tissue bank.

Colin was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition, spondylolisthesis, at the age of 17 and lived with spells of back pain. When he was 28 he endured a crippling episode that ultimately resulted in spinal fusion surgery that finally put an end to the pain.

“Being a farmer bouncing around on tractors and lifting heavy things didn’t help,” said the 50-year-old. “I had a lot of sciatica and back pain to the point that I couldn’t even walk more than 100m without being in agony.

“One day, I was driving home from the farm and my back went into a really painful spasm. I had to stop and curled up in the back of the ute for 15 or 20 minutes before I got the courage up to drive the next 2km home.

“Scans showed the nerves had been squashed coming out of the vertebrae, which caused sciatica. It was classed as a Grade 3 spondylosis, with Grade 4 being most severe, so there was no other real option but spinal fusion.

“I was told at the age of 28 that my back was like someone in their 60s.”

Weeks later, Colin underwent the 10 hour operation, inserting screws and rods in his back along with bone grafts from Colin’s pelvis and donor allograft from PlusLife.

“At the time, I didn’t know much about donor bone and tissue. I didn’t even realise what a donor bone graft was and didn’t really give it a second thought until recently when I learnt about the important work of PlusLife through my involvement in the parliamentary inquiry into organ and tissue donation in WA,” he said.

“We put calls out for people to make submissions to the inquiry and when I was reading the submission from PlusLife it quickly became apparent to me that this is where my donor allograft came from all those years ago.”

Colin said he had not looked back since his operation in 2001.

“That surgery was transformational,” he said. “Once the initial pain after surgery subsided, I had no back pain and I had never felt that before. I couldn’t remember what it was like not to have back pain.

“The change was truly incredible. I can walk and run now. I did my first half marathon this year in the HBF Run for a Reason, something I could never have done before my surgery.”

Colin said he was extremely thankful for the bone graft donation and called on others to consider becoming tissue donors this DonateLife Week.

PlusLife Chief Executive Officer Hal Boronovskis said PlusLife had helped improve thousands of lives through generous donations of Australian tissue, which had been processed by PlusLife and used in life-enhancing operations by surgeons.

Through PlusLife’s two donor programs, patients having a hip replacement operation can donate the ball part of their hip (femoral head), which is produced into allograft for implantation. Like organ donation, bone, tendons and ligaments can also be donated after death with consent from the deceased’s next-of-kin.

The gift of bone and tissue donation is used for patients undergoing life-transforming operations, such as complex joint surgery and treatments for patients with dental and facial bone loss. In many cases it has saved people with cancer the distress of a limb amputation.

“For more than 30 years, PlusLife has been dedicated to producing quality allograft from Australian donations of bone and tissue, and helping to achieve life-changing benefits for thousands of people,” Mr Boronovskis said.

“What many people don’t realise is that the impacts can be far-reaching. One living donor donation can help up to five patients, while one donation from the deceased program can improve the lives of up to 20 recipients.

“Anyone can register as a donor but it’s really important to talk to your family so they are aware of your wishes, and DonateLife Week is the perfect time to do this.”

Since starting operations in 1992, PlusLife has created 33,100 individual allografts from more than 16,700 donors. Over 25,000 allografts have been implanted to help more than 15,150 patients, including children.

Last year alone, 872 patients received 1577 life-changing bone and tissue from allografts produced by PlusLife.

PlusLife has retrieval services across Perth and in the South-West; and also engages with interstate hospitals.

DonateLife Week, the national tissue and organ donation awareness campaign, runs from July 23 to 30.