Hundreds of people have now backed an Advertiser series campaign to help save lives in our area by signing up to the Organ Donor Register.
In recent months, the Advertiser series has featured the stories of families across the district, revealing their personal battles as they fight devastating illnesses and overcome huge hardships.
It’s now emerged that in the 18 weeks of the campaign, a staggering 767 people have pledged to donate, potentially saving the lives of those who are still waiting for a life-changing transplant.
“It’s great to see so many people signing up,” said Rachel Wiseman, organ donation nurse at Harrogate District Hospital. “The Advertiser’s campaign has really brought organ donation to the forefront of people’s minds in the area and encouraged people to talk about their organ donation wishes with their loved ones.
“This is so important and can make a difference to patients who are desperately in need of a life-saving transplant.”
The campaign was launched after it emerged that nine people died in the Harrogate district while waiting for an organ transplant in the last five years.
While 11 people have undergone transplants in the district in the last year, there are still 24 people desperately waiting for help.
The Advertiser series has worked with families across the district to highlight the fight of those most directly affected.
Among them was railwayman Dennis Roberts who was left fighting for his life after being diagnosed with a crippling genetic disease. Until, that is, his wife Jacqueline proved a match and gave him a kidney transplant.
“When I woke up after my operation, it was as if I had jump leads attached, ” said the Knaresborough signalman, who lives in Ripon. “I felt revitalised.”
Dennis, now 61, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease at the age of 33. When he became really ill, said Jacqueline, she wanted to do all she could to help.
“People said to me ‘aren’t you brave’,” she said. “I don’t think so - this was the easier option. This condition, even if he had gone onto dialysis, would have taken over our lives.”
More people need to consider donating, she said: “You are giving such a gift to people whose lives are just in limbo.
“If some good can come of your loss, then it’s worth it. It’s the best gift you can give.”
Another family, from Harrogate, shared their story after both sons were diagnosed with a deadly heart condition.
John and Liz Gardiner’s sons Stuart and Alan, aged 37 and 32, were both born with a faulty gene which left them with enlarged hearts.
The brothers, diagnosed within six months of one another, were both put on the list for a lifesaving heart transplant.
But Stuart, living in America, was treated within months. And Alan, who now carries a battery everywhere to help pump his heart, is still waiting for news.
“The hardest part is that we are waiting for a fit, healthy, young man, of about Alan’s age, to die tragically, so that he can live, ” said Liz. “It’s hard to get your head around that.
“It can’t be easy for a family to say yes to signing the organ register, when they have just lost a loved one. But we see the other side of it. And at least, in a way, you are saving a life.”
Ripon woman Deborah Jones suffers from a rare condition and has been on the waiting list for a liver transplant for more than a year.
For all that time, she has had to stay within a couple of hours of her home. No holidays, no trips to visit family and friends.
“Everything changes,” she said. “Everything is on hold. I can’t miss that call.”
Deborah, 49, is now urging others to sign up to the Organ Donor Register.
“People don’t think about it until it affects them,” she said. “But you are more likely to need a transplant than you are to donate.”
Brave couple Libbie and Steve Davies shared their story after losing baby Zachary at just 29 days old.
Born in November 2012 with a rare heart defect, Zachary was top of the waiting list for a heart transplant in the whole of the country.
But it came too late. After suffering four heart attacks in the first month of his life, he couldn’t survive.
“Had there been more donors available, had more people been willing to sign up to the register, then maybe Zachary would have been with us today, “ said his parents.
“But it is what it is. There wasn’t a heart available.”
They said they will do all they can to prevent other families from going through what they have.
“It takes tragedy to make people realise the importance of life, “ they said. “This absolutely woke us up.”
And family man Mark Smith, from Harrogate, spoke about how his life was completely transformed by the ‘gift’ of a transplant.
The 41-year-old, diagnosed as diabetic at the age of 14, suffered for 25 years before he was offered a kidney transplant match in 2009.
Since that day his life has turned around - with the biggest change being his ‘miracle’ daughter Emily, now aged three-and-a-half.
“Most people will take that opportunity,that gift of a transplant, and do something radically different with their lives, ” he said. “It’s lifesaving - and life changing.”
The statistics show the campaign is having an impact. But more can be done to ensure that people signing up in the Harrogate district can make a real difference with their donation.
“Every discussion readers had on the back of the campaign articles will have made a difference and we hope even more people in the area will sign up and tell their families about their organ donation decision,” said Mrs Wiseman.
“Three people die every day due to the shortage of organs, so please sign up now at www.organdonation.nhs.uk and make your decision known to your family.”
‘A live-saving campaign’
“The Advertiser series has done a great job highlighting the issues surrounding organ transplantation. The newspaper has shown how transplants change lives and transform the future for the beneficiaries. I am quite sure that the articles have encouraged more people to register as a donor and have saved lives as a result. Often donation occurs at a tragic and emotional times for the relatives of the donor. It is difficult to take those painful decisions at such a time and it is often difficult for clinicians to ask relatives about organ donation. That is why it is important to have those discussions with relatives now and to sign up online or over the phone to the organ transplant register. I have done it; my family are aware also of my wishes.”
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones.
“The gift of organ donation can transform the lives of others and we are extremely grateful to all of our donors and their families, as well as everyone who has signed up to the National Organ Donor Register as a result of the coverage in our local newspaper. The Trust actively supports choices made in life being supported in death, by providing patients, families and carers with holistic, quality end of life choices. We will ensure the rights of patients wishing to donate their organs and tissues at the time of their death, are met in a positive and supportive manner.”
Dr Will Peat, consultant anaesthetist and clinical lead for organ donation at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust.
l To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk, or call 0300 1232323.