Bishop of Norwich’s late chaplain gave gift of life through organ donation

The Rev Tom Heffer who died on April 23, 2012

The Rev Tom Heffer who died on April 23, 2012

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Even after his death, a former chaplain to two successive Bishops of Norwich has continued his mission to help others through the life-saving donation of his organs.

The Rev Tom Heffer, who was a curate in Sprowston and worked as chaplain to both Bishop Graham James and Bishop Peter Nott, died at the Royal Free Hospital in London on April 23, at the age of 43.

He suffered from a congenital heart defect, which made him a passionate advocate for organ donation during his lifetime, and his family all carry donor cards.

Weeks after the 10-hour transplant operation, Mr Heffer’s wife Roz received a letter from NHS Blood and Transplant, explaining that a kidney had been given to a 40-year-old woman who had been on a waiting list for three years, freeing her from a reliance on dialysis treatment.

Another recipient was a 61-year-old man who underwent a life-saving liver transplant, leaving his doctors optimistic of a full recovery.

Mrs Heffer, 57, said the news brought great comfort to her family, despite their grief.

“When I knew there was nothing more they could do for Tom, I hung on to the fact that there was a family somewhere that was going to get a call in the middle of the night to say: ‘We have a kidney for you’. In the whole context of what has happened, that was something I tried to imagine. That was why Tom carried a card. It was what he wanted.

“I know other people who have benefited from people being prepared to donate their organs and I know there is a huge shortage of organs available for donation. I just think it is something we all need to do. It gives somebody else some hope.”

The unusual anatomy of Mr Heffer’s heart and lungs meant they could not be donated, but his pancreas will be used for vital medical research.

Mrs Heffer’s letter, signed by specialist organ transplantation nurses Natalie Akenzua and Belle Smale, says: “On behalf of all the recipients, their families and all the transplant teams involved, we would like to thank you again for your compassion and generosity that really has changed lives.”

Mr Heffer left the Diocese of Norwich in 2001, and became the secretary general of the Mission to Seafarers in 2009. He lived in the Bedfordshire village of Eaton Bray with his wife and their 17-year-old daughter Abi. Mr Heffer had planned to retire in Norfolk and, after his funeral service at Norwich Cathedral in May, he was buried in his former parish of Sprowston.

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