Why you should talk to your family about the decision to donate organs

Why you should talk to your family about the decision to donate organs

JUST months prior to my 17-year-old son’s unexpected collapse at a local gym, I signed up as an organ donor.

I‘d always planned on registering, but was under the mistaken impression it would necessitate buying a Medic Alert bracelet or paying an annual fee. Then I read about Matthew Legemaate, who needs a double lung and heart transplant. I was touched by his plight and, when I saw how simple the process was, I duly registered with the Organ Donation Foundation. I told a few friends how to register in a bid to spread awareness.

After all, I reasoned, if one of my children ever needed a transplant, I’d probably be putting the politicians to shame, bribing God to stick me right at the top of that organ donor list, so why not win over a few good men (and women) to ensure there might actually be some choice organs available down the line, if ever it came to that?

At dinner that night, I asked my family what they thought of my decision and whether they would be prepared to do the same. Bryn piped up, “Well, what am I going to do with my organs when I’m dead? It’s not as if I need them.”

Like so many things to do with his death, it seemed uncannily opportune that we’d had this discussion when we did and that he was more willing than his brother to give the gift of life.

Obviously, I’d expected both my healthy, athletic sons to live a long life and provide me with a posse of good-looking grandies, so Bryn’s aneurysm was a complete bolt from the blue. But if we had not had the discussion beforehand, I might not have approached the doctors about donating.

Perhaps I would have wondered whether Bryn would want this for himself, or worried that his brother might see my actions as callous and uncaring.

When Bryn was eventually transferred to ICU after a scan had confirmed his bleed was too serious to warrant surgery, I turned to my nursing sister friend and asked her whether she had seen anyone in his condition come back from it. She told me she had not and gently suggested I think about organ donation.

I had already been thinking along these lines as I knew of a youngster who had languished so long in hospital while his parents waited for a miracle, his organs began shutting down and were not viable for transplant. I didn’t want this for my son.

If he was going to die, I wanted him to leave a special legacy, so I asked the doctors to do the necessary testing to confirm my suspicion that Bryn was indeed brainstem dead.

In hindsight, it is incredible that his organs, tissue, bone and corneas were donated at all and that they likely saved seven people and helped as many as 50!

  • There is a dire lack of education and awareness about organ donation because funding is difficult to come by and there are few staff to get the word out. Let’s face it, death is a grim subject that people want to stay away from, so to have become one of the 0.2% of registered donors in this country is a miracle in itself. Unless I had been exposed to Matthew’s story through his mum’s tireless campaigning, I might not have thought about registering or talking to my family. Most people think there is plenty of time for the donation conversation, but Bryn’s story proves otherwise.
  • The fact that I continued to chat occasionally to Matthew’s mother on Facebook after I registered gave me a personal connection to this cause. In that dark time at the hospital, I actually wondered if Matthew and Bryn might be a match. What if this family had not been in my thoughts, prompting me to broach the subject? Talking about it beforehand to Matthew’s mum, to my family and other friends definitely brought the subject to mind when we were in the hospital.
  • There were no posters displayed or pamphlets lying about at the hospital which might give the family of a potential organ donor pause for thought. The doctors hadn’t even broached the subject, but when he was tested at our request, it was clear Bryn was brainstem dead. If we hadn’t talked beforehand, would I have had the confidence to tell my husband this was what I wanted to do with his precious son? How would he have reacted?
  • Two young boys we knew had died in recent years. In the one case, some of the youngster’s organs were donated, but in the other, the organs had begun shutting down. I knew I did not want Bryn’s organs to go to waste in this way. I wanted to ensure another family would not have to endure the pain I felt at losing my son.

In my traumatised state, it still amazes me that I thought about organ donation at all and I believe the conversation we had that night made all the difference.

Have the same conversation with your family. There’s no time to waste. Please do it today.



Get It Magazine Durban January 2018

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