Patients and medics from Harrogate Hospital have paid an emotional tribute to the brave families who save lives through organ donation.
They have dedicated an oak tree in the centre of Harrogate to organ donors, as a lasting memorial to their sacrifice, and to the gift donors give to patients desperately in need of a life-saving organ transplant.
The hospital’s Organ and Tissue Donation Committee organised the tree planting on Thursday, March 21, but deep snow forced the ceremony inside and they instead paid tribute to the courage of bereaved families ahead of the tree planting later in the year.
Angelique Halliwell’s son Michael became an organ donor after he died in a tragic road accident aged just 36. She believes it would have been a waste of life twice over if Michael’s organs had not saved many other lives.
“Michael was born in Oxford and came to Harrogate with his family at the age of eight. Part of him returned to Oxford and gave the gift of life to an ex-RAF officer,” Ms Halliwell said.
After the father-of-two died suddenly in a car accident, the family wrestled with the dilemma of whether to let him become an organ donor.
Eventually, they gave their consent to see some good to come out of Michael’s death.
Now the family encourage organ donation, and Ms Halliwell sits on the Organ and Tissue Donation Committee to represent donor families.
She praised the support her family received from staff at Harrogate Hospital. “To lose a child is something you will never get over, but the support donor families get is how I can do this,” she said.
One of those staff members is specialist nurse Jayne Fisher, who works with families after they have received their terrible news.
Both Jayne and Angelique want more families to talk about organ donation before the worst happens.
“The most common causes of a family not giving consent for organ donation are either that they are worried their loved one will not be treated with dignity, or they don’t know what the person’s wishes were,” Jayne said.
But, she added, donors are treated with every dignity, and talking openly about organ donation would spare grieving families the anguish of trying to make a decision.
“You are much more likely to need a transplant than to become an organ donor,” Jayne added.
Thirty-four year old Harrogate woman Beverley Harrison is one of those who needed a transplant. Just five months ago she was seriously ill with Autoimmune Hepatitis.
She had lived with the condition, which made her own immune system attack her liver, for three years but in October 2012 her health deteriorated rapidly and she was given just two weeks to live.
“My sister is due to give birth very soon, but back in October we didn’t think I would live to see the baby born,” she said.
Beverley’s condition was so serious doctors moved her name to the top of the transplant list and after only a week a donor was found.
Apart from medication she will take for ever, Beverley can live a normal life, will meet her new nephew or niece, and can even consider children of her own - something her illness made impossible.
Beverley knows brief details about her donor, and has written to thank his family.
“Words cannot express how thankful I am. My letter is just a torrent of emotion trying to express my gratitude.”
She added: “I think all families should talk about organ donation, it shouldn’t be a taboo. It doesn’t tempt fate to talk about it.”
Harrogate Hospital’s Dr Albert Day is chairman of the Organ and Tissue Donation Committee. He echoed the pleas for families to talk about organ donation.
There are more than 50 people walking around Harrogate who have received donors organs, he said.
“Without organ donation a lot of people will die needlessly. With it, a donor can live on in some way. I have huge respect for donor families and their courage.”