The greatest gift this Christmas could be saving a life

Dec 14, 2021 | Local News

As Christmas approaches NHS Blood and Transplant is calling on families in the North East and Yorkshire to talk about organ donation and register their decision to help save lives.

With some families hoping to get together for Christmas for the first time since the pandemic began, NHS Blood and Transplant is urging people to take a moment during the celebrations to talk about their organ donation decision and to leave their family members certain of what they want to happen.

There are currently 795* patients awaiting the life-saving gift of an organ transplant in the North East and Yorkshire and many of their lives could be saved or significantly improved if a donor is found. Yet every day across the UK someone dies in need of an organ transplant.

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at NHSBT, says: “Wherever and however people in the North East and Yorkshire plan to spend this Christmas, we hope that  everyone will be able to enjoy the festivities and spend some much needed time with family and friends.

“For many thousands of people across the country, including 401 people in the North East and Yorkshire who have had transplants this year**, the only reason that they are able to enjoy a happy and healthy Christmas is thanks to the generosity of a donor and their family who so selflessly chose to give the gift of life. However, there are still thousands of people who are still desperately hoping and waiting for the transplant that will transform their life.

“Please take a moment this Christmas to let your family know your organ donation decision. Those conversations could help save the lives of people currently spending their Christmas waiting for a transplant.”

Even though the law around organ donation has now moved to an opt out system across England, Wales, and Scotland, many are still not aware that families will still always be consulted before organ donation goes ahead.

While families are more likely, and find it easier, to support donation when they already know it is what their loved one wanted, only 42% of the UK population have registered their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and just 37% say that they have shared their organ donation decision with their family.

Giles McVicar, aged 49, from Wakefield, has had two heart transplants and is now waiting for a kidney transplant. He says “This will be my third Christmas on dialysis and waiting for a new kidney. I’ve felt grotty on the past ones so I’m hoping all will be ok this year. It’s always a reminder of where you are health wise and makes you look forward to a new year with hopefully a suitable donor being found.

“I plan to go to my sisters and brother in laws this year with my 2 boys. My parents and brother and his family will also be going so there should be lots of laughs and good food. My wish is really to feel well over Christmas and enjoy it with my family. My hopes for 2022 have to be to receive a donor kidney. I’m pretty desperate to live a life of very good health, a life of good fitness and to be my proper myself again instead of living in a survival mode.

“What a powerful gift it must be to save someone’s life, it’s the ultimate gift we can give and if I was in a position to receive a kidney then I don’t think any words would be able to explain how grateful and happy I’d be.”

Vicky Pettersen, from New Markse, Redcar, had her lung transplant 22 years ago. She has seen her son grow up, she’s turned 50 and celebrated 31 years of marriage in 2021. Vicky became a grandma last month.

She says: “It’s amazing, I never even dreamt of this when I was on the waiting list. I always had these life goals with Antony, first for him to be old enough to remember me, then see him grow. But I’ve seen him grow up, attend schools, go through college, university, I was at his graduation and I’ve seen him start work as a music teacher, and now settle down.

“I didn’t ever have be a grandparent on my list, I never thought it was possible. When I got my transplant I hoped for 5 years, that was the figure you could hope for so becoming a grandparent wasn’t even in the realms of possibility.

“Now Antony has graduated and got older, my goal was to live as long as possible. When I found out I was going to be a grandma, my goal was to be alive to meet the baby and have some memories together. I live moment to moment, thinking of the next goal.

“It absolutely amazing to be a grandma, a real Christmas miracle. It is just wonderful to look at Rory, and to hold him. And to see Antony become a dad, well my heart could burst. We never thought this was possible, we thought my husband Erik might be a grandad, telling our grandchildren about me, not that I would be here.

“It is very surreal but incredible. Rory is absolutely gorgeous and I’m looking forward to spending as much time with him as possible. It’s another exciting new chapter. Now the goals I had with Antony, will be my goals with Rory – I hope to live long enough for my grandson to remember me.

“I’m hoping me and Rory will have a couple of years together to make memories. I hoped Antony would remember me and now I’ve got to see him become a father, it’s unbelievable. This is my 23rd Christmas thanks for my transplant and it will be an amazing one as a grandma, something I never thought possible.

“I think of my donor on anniversaries, special occasions and when I am feeling reflective. I am aware of their family and their grief and the impact of that. I know they’ve had 22 years without that person and I am forever grateful to my donor and that their family made that decision at the hardest time in their life. I am so thankful, someone donated this gift to me.

“I want to inspire people, those who might be a donor or donor family, as well as those waiting and who have had a transplant, about what is possible. People don’t realise organ donation saves lives and it can give a long life and lead to the next generation – it’s incredible.

“Antony was 4 when I went on the waiting list and Erik and I were 28, just a young family. We’ve been together 34 years this Christmas, it was our 30th wedding anniversary last year, and Antony is grown up and starting his own family. I love being a grandma, I’m looking forward to making memories, I hope to see Rory become a toddler and a little boy, that’s my dream.

“I wasn’t expected to live past my teens, thanks to my donor, my medical team, Erik and my amazing family and the support I have, I am still here. I’ve had a lifetime because of my transplant, and that’s down to my donor. I hoped my transplant would give me extra time but it’s given me a whole lifetime.”

Anthony Clarkson adds, “We know that for many thousands of people across the UK, including 795 people in the North East and Yorkshire, the greatest gift they could receive this year will be a phone call telling them that a donor has been found for them. Please let your family know your organ donation decision and leave them certain of your decision”.