Organ Donor Awareness: 'My dad's death wasn't so pointless - he made a difference and saved four lives'
As part of Organ Donation Awareness Week, this writer discusses her family's experience after her father's organs were donated
Published 03/04/2015 | 11:46
I was 14.
We were watching the telly on a Sunday evening - admittedly it might have been Glenroe.
And an ad came on about organ donation.
After the ad, my dad said something along the lines of 'if anything ever happens to me, I would like my organs to be donated".
And then he said something like: "Sure you can't take it with you."
He was quite clear and quite definitive that he wanted this to happen.
We looked at him, told him nothing was going to happen to him and joked that he should stop being so morbid.
And that was that. We got back to Glenroe.
Although my mother, my siblings and myself never discussed it again, we would all remember quite distinctly that this was his wish. There was no big deal, he just said this was what he wanted and there was no room for confusion.
My dad never carried a wallet. His pockets often weighed heavily with change.
He kept two cards - his bank card, and in the two years before his death, his gym membership to 'Total Fitness'. So an organ donor card was never going to suit him but we knew. He ensured that we knew.
As a family, we never thought we would get to the stage where we would ensure his wish came true.
But some 13 years later, in October 2007, that was what we were presented with.
My father Thomas was 55 when he fell down the stairs at our home in Clonshaugh.
It happened just after midnight one night.
My mother and sister were by his side within seconds.
The emergency services from the nearby Beaumont Hospital were there in less than ten minutes.
Anything that could have been done to save him was done.
Dad misplaced his footing while walking down the stairs - stairs he had taken every day for more than 30 years - before falling and hitting his head.
Several hours later, the brilliant staff at Beaumont told us my dad had suffered a catastrophic head injury.
Not knowing exactly what this meant, I asked: "Okay. Is he going to die?"
I fully expected them to say no and something like "there's a long road ahead".
But instead they nodded their heads and confirmed the worse. We would have hours with him, days perhaps, if we were lucky.
The following day a consultant performed a brain stem test which confirmed the worst.
He told us he was brain dead and had been pronounced.
He stood with us in a room surrounded by my father's loved ones.
And then he, ever so gently and ever so respectfully, suggested we consider 'organ donation'.
With that, we got a little ray of hope.
We had a quick family discussion - my siblings and I said an immediate yes, my dad's siblings said yes and my mother, very quickly, added "it's what he always wanted".
All six of us then signed the consent form.
And immediately tests got underway.
A representative from the Irish Kidney Association was dispatched to be by our family's side (her name was Michelle and she was brilliant). She supported us and explained everything in layman's terms.
Things were moving quickly in the background - testing was being conducted and it soon emerged that dad's heart, liver and kidneys would be donated to four different people.
During the time that things were being prepared, Michelle and the staff encouraged us to sit by our dad, talk to him, and take it all in.
His heart was still beating, his hands were still warm. He looked healthy and the 'catastrophic brain injury' had the outward appearance of a scratch of his head covered by a simple band aid.
An hour before dad went into theatre, we gathered round him one last time. A nurse snipped five locks of hair from his head for each of us to keep.
Michelle then asked if we wanted to bring anything into the theatre with him.
We suggested two photos - one showing our smiling father and another image of him holding the two-year-old grandson he adored.
Our father was treated with huge respect throughout the whole process.
Members of our family walked with him as he was taken into theatre.
That was the last time any of us would see him 'alive' - although technically he died after he struck his head.
My friend's mother is a nurse. She texted me to say she was sorry for loss of my father and appreciated it was a horrible time for our family. However, she said: "It is also a time of wonderful hope for the four people your father is going to help".
And it was true - we had hope.
We know very little about the people who received my father's organs - we know that one is a woman and the other three were male.
We know the man who received his heart was in a critical condition in a hospital in the UK at the time. We know that he survived his transplant operation.
We know that my dad and his gift of life is something they will always remember. We know this due to the mass cards and letter they sent us and for which we were very grateful.
We also know that our dad's sudden death and our grief was made slightly easier by the thought that he saved others.
Read more: Kidney donation....from Dad with love
His death wasn't so pointless and he made a difference - something which gives us solace to this day.
So, to get to the point of this meandering blog, talk to your loved ones about organ donation.
And better still, carry a card.
You can request donor cards from the Irish Kidney Association at ika.ie, or Freetext DONOR to 50050 and it is now possible to store an organ donor 'ecard' on your smartphone.