Hazel McHaffie

organ donor register

Marriage, death and blueberry muffins

I’m frequently amazed at how many articles in the newspaper touch on my subject area on a daily basis. Sensationalised often. Distorted even. But drawing attention to important issues nevertheless. Take yesterday’s edition for example.

A judge has just ruled that a 67 year old man who has had Motor Neurone Disease for 10 years, may be allowed to end his life peacefully by declining treatment. So? you might be asking, I thought any mentally competent patient had the right to refuse medical treatment. Indeedy. But in this case the patient has been unable to communicate his wishes directly for some time; he can only use eye movements. An advance decision was formally drawn up last November after several discussions and with all the important people present. Watertight you might think, but apparently a carer who wasn’t there, cast doubt on the nature of the patient’s consent, hence the case went to the High Court for clarification. Sad that the family needed to endure this additional delay and burden. The question is: Would you consent to this for yourself or your loved one? As a professional, would you have allowed it to go ahead unchallenged?

Still with death, an American study (published in Personality and Social Psychology Review) has discovered that awareness of mortality can have positive effects. Really?!! The headline put it: ‘Save your marriage by thinking of death’. Not surprisingly, it makes people value the finer things of life more. But, how ready would you be to clutch at this particular straw?

The social network site Facebook has just launched a new feature to encourage users to sign up as organ donors. It’s reported that 6,000 signed up to Donate Life America by the end of the first day. A ‘health and well-being button’ allows users to register with the optional extra of telling their friends (or the world if they prefer) that they have become potential donors. Question is: Are you a registered donor? If not, would you be more inclined to join up this way?

Me, I’ve been in the business long enough to have registered as a donor online years ago, and to have drafted a formal advance directive which has been duly signed and witnessed, and to have notified my family of all these wishes and intentions. But I’m only too pleased the media are raising the nations’ consciousness of the issues.

But to end of a lighter note … also in the newspaper this week a survey carried out by a food company, actually reported that one youngster in six regarded a blueberry muffin as ‘fruit’ that counted as part of their five-a-day recommended intake. As they say: You’re avin a larf!

Seems to me journalism could be fun!

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Donating organs

I am feeling both humbled and privileged. But let’s go back to the beginning …

On an icily cold morning in February 2008, Martin was diverted on his way to work because of an accident on his usual route. He called his wife, Mary, and asked her to ring their son, Paudraig, on his mobile phone. There was no answer.Paudraig

This was a tight-knit Irish community and word travelled fast. The owner of the house at the scene of the accident knew exactly whose car it was. First to arrive were local nurses on their way to work – they knew the driver. Paudraig had skidded on an icy bend in the road and slammed into concrete. By the time his parents arrived at the hospital this vibrant, much-loved lad, aged just 21, was wired up to machinery. And the medical predictions were bleak.

It’s almost too painful to try to imagine their emotions. And yet … they found the courage to do two things very swiftly: they offered his organs for transplantation; and they requested that all his friends and family be given time and opportunity to come in to see him while he was still alive. Both gestures had a profound effect on many lives.

Recently, in the course of research for my current novel, I had the privilege of talking to Mary, hearing her story, listening to the reasons why they did as they did. A more altruistic and generous family it would be hard to find. Paudraig's drawingAnd as if that were not enough, a package subsequently arrived in the post for me: photos of Paudraig; copies of letters recounting the progress of the organ recipients and their heartfelt thanks; The Northern Ireland Transplant Association leaflets telling Paudraig’s story and appealing for donors; poems and tributes and … incredibly … three pen-and-ink drawings by this hugely talented artist, Paudraig. All unsolicited. Sent to a complete stranger. Treasures beyond price.

If anyone can move the public to sign up to donating their organs, it has to be families like this. In the midst of one of the worst kinds of pain known to man, they yet think of others. They see hope coming out of tragedy, and they are comforted that even in death, their loved ones can reach out to help the needy.

What a legacy.

And all unexpectedly I have fallen inside the orbit of this family’s embrace. Awed and indebted beyond words.

If you have been affected by Paudraig’s story, why not visit www.uktransplant.org.uk today? And remember … do talk to your nearest and dearest about your intentions. A conversation today could save many lives tomorrow.

*Pictures reproduced by kind permission of Paudraig’s family

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