Life Stories

Ella's Mam

My life changed forever on Mother’s Day 2013, the day before my mam Tish’s birthday, when I went to visit her and found her in the middle of suffering a brain haemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm (we had no idea she had one).  It was truly the most horrific and shocking time of my entire life.  The only thing that kept me going was the love of my family and friends and the decision that myself and Eileen (Tish’s sister) made to donate her organs.

She was not on the organ donor register and we had never discussed organ donation, but I always remember my mam saying that "the body was simply a vessel for our time on this earth".  Knowing how much she always tried to help people - especially people who were less fortunate than her - told me it was the right thing to do.  "Once you are gone, you are gone" was another thing she used to say.  So when it was clear that there was no hope for her, I made the decision to offer hope to other families.  It was so surreal, but the thought that my mam could somehow offer hope to others, and prevent them from being in the same position as us, was strangely comforting.

On what would have been Tish’s 57th birthday, instead of me giving her presents, she was offering gifts around the country to people who were desperately in need.  We went to South Shields beach, where she had spent many a happy day as a young girl with her family, and thought about the people out there getting those life-changing phonecalls; that helped us get through the sheer horror of what had just happened.

On the day that I collected my mam’s ashes, I received a letter from the transplant coordinators giving me the wonderful news that all the transplants had been successful; it felt so poignant.  It was the first sunny, warmish day after the most bitterly cold March I can remember; I was filled with hope and pride.

I thought about those women and their families every day; I willed them to recover with the help of my mam.  A few months later I received cards from Jane, who had received Tish’s lungs, and Teresa, who received her kidney and pancreas together as a double transplant.  Jane had her lung transplant on what would have been my mam’s birthday and became a grandmother for the first time to a little girl who now shares Tish’s birthday.  I don’t believe that was a coincidence!  Jane and Teresa both have sons the same age with the same name too!

When my mam was in the hospital before she slipped into a coma, she was talking a lot of gibberish; but one of the main things that she was telling all the doctors was that she was a diabetic and that she had been to the diabetes clinic who had changed her medication and that was why she was ill.  I had no idea where this was coming from as she had never had diabetes in her life, but it turns out that Teresa was a diabetic, and that was her life before transplant – so, again, I don’t think this was a coincidence.  I truly believe that Tish chose both Jane and Teresa.

I received the most beautiful card from Maisie, the eight-year-old daughter of Jane, thanking me for letting my mam save her mummy’s life.  I will never forget opening it and the overwhelming feeling of pure love I felt.  It totally proved without doubt that donating my mam’s organs was the right thing to do.

I have since become close friends with both Jane and Teresa, who I call my "unbiological sisters”.  We have met up individually, with our families and all together - Maisie and I are now pen pals!  We recently enjoyed getting together to celebrate Teresa’s 40th birthday.

My mam was an extraordinary woman in both life and death.  She lives on in both Jane and Teresa, together with the other people she helped.  As a keen photographer, there are also the images that she took throughout her life.  I don't think that I will ever get over the absolute shock of losing her so suddenly in this tragic way, but organ donation has really helped me come to terms with her death; I know it wasn't in vain as she went on to save the life of four women and the eyesight of four men.

I am doing everything in my power to spread the word about how important it is to have the conversation with your loved ones about organ donation.  After all, death is a part of life - but through organ donation it doesn't have to be the end.  There can be happiness after tragedy, sunshine after the rain and new life and friendships can grow.

Ella Murtha