Set in stone, the thanks of those given new life
- Credit: Archant
The gratitude and grief surrounding organ donation is set in stone at the heart of a hospital, writes ROWAN MANTELL
Hundreds of Norfolk people, close to the end of their own lives, choose to give strangers the chance to live.
Now a sculpture has been dedicated to all those who have donated organs so that others might survive, and to the families who gave permission for new life to flow from tragedy.
'For many, many years organ donation has been something hidden, whispered, that people didn't talk about,' said Tim Leary critical care consultant and organ donation specialist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. 'But the world is changing.'
The sculpture, at the front of the hospital, honours and thanks organ donors and their families. 'In the past 10 years more than 100 patients have received organs from patients in this intensive care unit,' said Tim. 'We want to commemorate and celebrate what they have done.'
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He said that as a student he had been taught to apologise for having to ask about organ donation. Now, those difficult conversations are seen as a chance for something good to come out of the grief, for hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.
And, in Norwich, around 70pc of the families asked to give permission for organ donation, agree. 'Our local families are extremely good. The people of Norfolk really do say yes, by and large,' said Tim.
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And around 20 times a year all the complex factors line-up to mean a suitable donor has been found and their precious gift of a heart and lungs, of kidneys or corneas, can transform another life. 'Once I have spoken to the family to say the outlook is very, very bleak and their loved one isn't going to survive, and once they understand, we then offer them the opportunity to speak to an organ donation specialist and, when possible, to opt to donate. Most do. About 70pc do,' said Tim.
And then, amid the desolation of death, his team offer the possibility of new hope, in the shape of a functioning heart or kidneys, or corneas, packed in ice and packed with potential.
Marie Garside, specialist nurse for organ donation, said the subject, which was once talked about in hushed whispers, is becoming something to celebrate.
'One of our kidneys took part in the European transplant games!' she said.
A five year programme to increase donations by 50pc was more than met by Norfolk, where the increase was 200pc.
Several years ago a national consultation recommended that donors and their families should be thanked and commemorated.
The sculpture, by stone carver and letter cutter Teucer Wilson, of Aldborough, near Cromer, was commissioned by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital organ donation committee.
It is dedicated to the memory of every organ donor cared for by the hospital and celebrates the generosity and skill of everyone linked with the organ donor programme – a focus for families to remember loved-ones and where passers-by might pause and consider becoming a donor themselves.
It features words from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, telling passers-by: 'There are those who have little and give it all. Those are the believers in life and the miracle of life.'
As well as commissioning the sculpture, dedicated to all the people who have died here and yet helped others live on, the organ donation committee also raises awareness of the subject. It sponsors local sports teams and will be sponsoring a dragon in next year's charity GoGoDragon! trail.
Marie said: 'One of the biggest reasons people say no is because they don't know what their loved ones would have wanted. They never talked about it. Talk about it, then your wishes can be respected.'
'It's a terrific thing to know that there are five or six people walking around today, only because of Gill,' said Peter Stokes. 'She would be delighted. She was all heart anyway.'
When Gill Stokes collapsed and died, a week before Christmas, and six weeks after the birth of her beloved first grandchild, the knowledge that parts of her body had saved the lives of others helped her family through their grief.
'It was almost seven years ago but still seems like yesterday,' said her husband, Peter, of Weybread, near Harleston. 'We'd had an amazing day. We had Christmas lunch at our local pub and had seen our baby grandson. Gill saw him every day. She was absolutely on top of the world. She was in very, very good health. She spent a lot of time with George and loved showing him off! She couldn't help but show him off. My daughter still talks about that. We had both retired and she was enjoying her hobbies and being part of the village and village church. She was absolutely on top of her game.'
The arrival of baby George had healed a sadness that Gill had carried since the death, just minutes after birth, of her own first child, decades earlier.
And then a brain haemorrhage struck. Gill never regained consciousness and died four days later.
'Once I knew that she wasn't going to come back to us it was me who first brought up the subject of organ donation,' said Peter. 'Gill and I had talked about it so I knew it was what she wanted. And it definitely helped us in our grief. It forced us to look outside ourselves and realise there were other people out there, which made the grief easier to bear.
'The guy who received her kidney was so ill, and afterwards he was able to go back to work and enjoy a family life. One of her heart valves was used for a 13-year-old girl.'
Almost seven years on little George now has a younger brother and sister, and a cousin too. 'She would have been brilliant with the children,' said Peter, who is now a member of the Norfolk and Norwich organ donation committee, which commissioned the new sculpture for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
Gill had been a teacher specialising in working with troubled teenagers.
She was struck down in an instant but leaves a legacy of people who owe their lives to her determination to be an organ donor.