'It just makes so much sense' - Woman whose father died a week before being placed on liver waiting list backs opt out donations
PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:00 30 July 2018
Jessica Frank-Keyes will never know whether a donated liver would have saved her father's life, which was cruelly cut short nearly 10 years ago.
But knowing time is of the essence when a vital organ is required, the 22-year-old, from Norwich, has backed a move which would see organ donation become an opt out system, in a bid to save as many lives as possible.
Miss Frank-Keyes’ father John died in 2009, when she was just 13 years old.
The 50-year-old was just a week away from being placed on waiting list for a new liver.
Miss Frank-Keyes, 22, and a journalist at this newspaper, said: “My dad was also a journalist, a good cook and loved telling terrible jokes.
“He was also what’s known as a high functioning alcoholic which means that you’re regularly drinking too much and your body is dependent on it, but it doesn’t interfere, or doesn’t interfere a lot, with your ability to live a normal life.”
Miss Frank-Keyes said that because her father’s need for a liver was due to being an alcoholic, she had often battled to reconcile feelings of grief with feeling she did not deserve sympathy.
She said: “It’s very, very difficult to empathise with an alcoholic, and that’s something I’ve really struggled with. I always felt in some way that because it was something self-inflicted, unlike a brain tumour or a car accident, that we all somehow deserved less sympathy for losing him.
“This is partly because of something we were told by doctors when he was sick - that the liver is the only organ in the body which can regrow itself after being damaged. But unfortunately, despite being diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, he continued to drink past the point where regrowth would have been possible. That’s how he almost ended up on the transplant list.
“The lucky thing is that the NHS doesn’t deal in the same feelings of guilt or shame about illnesses like alcoholism that you, as the person’s family, feel - if you’re sick they treat you, no questions asked, which is something we’re all incredibly fortunate to benefit from.
“My dad needed a liver and they were fully prepared to give him one - after he proved he could spent six months without drinking.”
And father-of-two Mr Frank-Keyes did prove that, but tragically he caught an infection in hospital which he could not fight off.
“This was a week before he would have officially been placed on the waiting list,” Miss Frank-Keyes, who grew up in Guildford, Surrey, said.
“His organs were really weak at this point and he was on dialysis and in a lot of pain. In many ways it was a huge relief as he was so ill and organ donation is a very risky, complicated procedure, which he may not have survived.”
Miss Frank-Keyes, a former University of East Anglia (UEA) student, said she understood her father still could have died on the waiting list and that a transplant may not have been the answer.
She said: “There are a lot of reasons he might still be here today, but the waiting list is not the whole story, and I would never blame it on that.”
But she was also keen people were made aware of the life-saving effects organ donation could have, as had he made it to the waiting list a donated liver could have saved Mr Frank-Keyes’ life.
She added: “Organ donation is an issue that I think is really important to raise awareness of. I don’t think enough people understand the difference they can make simply by being on the organ donation list, or how easy it is to sign up.
“I have had an organ donor card since as soon as I was old enough to apply for one, and I take it everywhere with me. You don’t actually have to carry the card with you though, as the NHS do have a register.
“But it’s symbolic of its importance to me.
“I would 100pc support an opt out donor register. Just thinking of all the lives that could be saved, it just makes so much sense.”
• To find out more about organ donation visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk