A Grantham couple who made the life-giving decision to allow their teenage son’s heart to be used in a transplant operation are backing a national awareness campaign.
Nigel and Sue Burton, who live in Gonerby Hill Foot, were confronted with the traumatic choice whether to give consent after doctors said they could do nothing more for 16-year-old Martin after he suffered a brain haemorrhage.
Martin had been taken to hospital in Nottingham after collapsing at home and was put on life support. Medics told the couple he had suffered irreparable brain damage.
Mrs Burton said: “We were in shock. Only 24 hours earlier Martin had been a fit and healthy teenager.
“We hadn’t discussed the issue of organ transplants with Martin, but we knew it was what he would have wanted.
“We knew that by donating his organs we could save other lives.’
Martin’s heart was transplanted to 15-year-old Marc McCay, who had only hours to live.
Marc, now aged 29, had contracted a virus, causing his heart to become dangeroulsly enlarged.
Mr and Mrs Burton have met Marc and the remarkable story has been featured recently in a BBC Radio Four series The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away.
Marc’s mother Linda wrote to the Burtons, thanking them for their decision ten years ago and they have been writing and messaging each other since.
The couple finally met Marc for the first time in 2014, an occasion which Mrs Burton described as “amazing.”
Martin’s liver, kidneys, lungs and eyes were also transplanted, saving a second life and enhancing others.
Nigel and Sue are volunteers with the Donor Family Network, one of the organisations supporting the new Donation Conversation campaign.
Nigel, 59, who is a retired RAF aircraft engineer, is vice chairman of the organisation and Sue, 57, who works in the accounts office for a solicitors’, is treasurer.
The couple believe it is important that families are prepared, should they ever have to make a decision about whether a loved one would have wished to be a donor.
An NHS Blood and Transplant survey showed that eight out of 10 people support organ donation, but half of adults in England have never talked to anyone about donating their organs when they die.
Each year only around 5,000 of the half million people who die across the UK die in circumstances where they could potentially be a donor.
Families are approached sensitively about donation, but some can find it difficult to make a decision at a time of grief, especially if they don’t know what their relative wanted.
Families are more likely to say yes to donating a relative’s organs if they have had a conversation about it and their relative had registered to be an organ donor, with nine in 10 doing so in these circumstances.
Nevertheless, in the last five years over 500 families have said no to donation despite their relative being on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
Families are approached about donation at a very challenging time and it can come as a surprise to find out a relative had made a decision to donate.
This can make it difficult for families to support donation going ahead and their relative saving lives.
Mrs Burton added: “It is important to have a discussion about organ transplant with loved ones. When people are asked to make a decision by doctors it is not the best time and it is much easier for families to make the right decision if they have already discussed the issue.
“We have been involved in the Transplant Games and this is the most uplifting experience to witness, because the participants are people who would not otherwise be there but for the gift of life from a donor.
“It is so important people know their loved one’s wishes. Agreeing to an organ transplant is a chance to honour the legacy of a loved one and the chance for something caring to come out of tragedy.
“Even if someone is on the transplant register, it is a very difficult time and family members can still veto the decision, which they might do if they are not sure of their loved one’s wishes.”
Andy Eddy, Chair of Transplant Sport and a liver transplant recipient said: “The sad reality is that on average three people die in need of an organ transplant every day across the UK due to a shortage of people being willing to donate, and due to their families not giving consent.
“Ultimately, we want more people to have the donation conversation with their loved ones and sign to the NHS Organ Donor Register, so more people across the UK can benefit from the life-saving gift of organ donation.”
If you want to become an organ donor go to www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 1232323.