I am the daughter of a donor, which is something I never thought I would be. Mum was in her early 70s when she died. It’s so important that you do tell your family your wishes; Mum and I had a quick chat about organ donation a long time before she died. It was easy and part of a normal conversation – in fact, we were in the car and the subject was on the radio.
I am pleased to tell you that Mum was able to give three people the gift of life with both of her kidneys and her liver. She also gave two people the gift of sight with cornea transplants. A man in his early 60s received one of her kidneys, having been on the waiting list for over two years and on dialysis for five. A lady, also in her early 60s, received Mum’s other kidney. She, too, had been on dialysis three times a week for almost two years. Another lady in her early 60s received Mum’s liver; she was really unwell. Both of Mum’s corneas were successfully transplanted only a couple of months after her death - one to a man in his early 50s and the other to a man in his early 40s.
I think it must be so difficult to know how to approach donor families like me. We are in complete shock, coming to terms with the news that our loved one is either brain stem dead or not going to recover from the massive trauma they have sustained. The amazing doctors and nurses must feel like they are walking on glass; they are entering into the most deeply personal, heart breaking moment in someone’s life - someone who they don't know and whose reactions they have no idea of.
I always think it is better to tread gently, in soft feather-like slippers rather than heavy hob-nailed boots. Jo, my Specialist Nurse in Organ Donation, got it just right. She walked gently into my life, full of compassion, understanding and patience in the softest of feather slippers. I didn’t think such people existed in the world; she really is an angel walking among us.
To be the daughter of someone who, by their death, has given the gift of life to others makes me very proud. It does not stop, alter or prevent the grieving process, the overwhelming feeling of loss, the missing them, the hurt and the sadness. For me it has meant that, when it feels as though a knife is being stabbed into my heart and the pain feels real, I have drawn strength and comfort from that pride knowing that that Mum gave in order to save others.
I was very lucky to receive a card from one of the kidney recipients. I would like to share with you the words they wrote and my reply so that you can truly appreciate how much organ donation means to both families.
“Hello. I hope you understand the choice of card used [it was a beautiful picture of a poppy]. We just do not know how to thank you; two little words just do not seem enough. The kidney will make life so much easier, no more dialysis or special diets and freedom to do more. From the bottom of our hearts we once again thank you for allowing us this wonderful gift. As time goes on we hope life becomes easier for you. Thank you once again.”
I have to say that I was overjoyed to receive that card! I replied, sending another poppy card and a letter saying:
“Thank you for your card; it was a joy to receive. For all of us it will always be a special day; we were walking the same path, just from different directions. Thank you may be two little words, but they mean so much because they convey a thousand.
“The decision to donate Mum’s organs was one of the easiest I have ever made. The gift was given with love and I am so very proud of her for being able to give it. Just as the ripples on a pond start off small and become bigger and bigger, she will continue to touch so many lives. It gives me great comfort knowing that.
“My thoughts were with you, from the moment I knew that she would be able to donate, hoping with crossed fingers that the operation would be a success that you would go on to lead a happy and fulfilled life. Mum had a wonderful, full, happy, loving life; she loved deeply and was deeply loved in return. Thank you again for getting in contact; we wish you continued good health, joy, happiness and love.” Alison and family
I had an update on the recipients one year later; it was mixed news. The man who received Mum’s kidney was still doing well. The lady who received her other kidney had made good progress initially, but unfortunately her pre-existing kidney disease returned and the kidney had to be removed. Sad though that is, I hope that she gained strength and hope from her chance of a new life and realised that people can give with love. The lady who received Mum’s liver is doing really well; she’s had no problems - which is amazing because Mum gave it a really good test run!
The gifts are given selflessly with pure unconditional love. Love – the most powerful of all emotions because it encompasses all others - gives us courage when we feel scared, strength when we feel weak, comfort when we are hurting and, above all else, it gives us hope.
When I said my final goodbye to Mum I stroked her hair and kissed her gently on her temple, saying: “I love you, and always will. You gave me life; now you have a chance to give someone else new life.”
As I walked away for the final time, through the tears and sorrow I had warmth in my heart – that warmth was love and hope. That’s what organ donation does - it restores our faith in humanity.
When we are given such sad news it’s like a black cloud descending, but I was given a rainbow of hope - hope for people like me that, out of something so tragic, my loved one could go on to touch so many lives and give hope to the recipients that the operation will be a success and they will go on to lead wonderful lives, filled with joy, love and laughter, making happy memories.
So, please, if you are pro organ donation, think about signing up to the organ donation register and having that chat with your family, because maybe one day you too will be creating rainbows.