"If signing the register is something you are brave enough to do, please let your nearest and dearest know..."
When Jennifer Malone’s mum Barbara Andrews sadly passed away at the age of 76 in July 2012, Jennifer and all of Barbara’s family – Margaret, Elaine, Cate and Barry – agreed to donate their mum’s organs, which helped to save and transform the lives of three people.
Talking about her experience, Jennifer explains why she is encouraging others to speak up and discuss their wishes early with their loved ones.
“Mum was a very energetic woman and had a love for gardening. She took great pleasure in passing on her knowledge of birds, butterflies and plants to her family.
“Mum always took great care of her appearance and this included going to the hairdresser every Saturday morning. She was also very sociable, enjoying family gatherings, holidays, and her weekly bingo catch-up with friends. I have very fond memories of learning to knit with mum, especially Aran knitting, making cardigans for all the family to wear.
“Throughout her life, her faith was very important to her and she prayed daily for her family’s good health.”
In July 2012, Barbara became ill after returning from a family holiday.
“Mum had difficulty breathing and was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. They suspected that she had pneumonia, so she was put on an antibiotic drip and we were told after a week of treatment she should be fine. But on the Wednesday morning mum went down for an X-ray and when returning to the ward she had a massive stroke. The hospital phoned me and told me to make my way to the hospital. I phoned the rest of the family and asked them to meet me there.
“Initially, I wasn't allowed to see mum. I was taken into a side room and offered tea. When the rest of the family arrived, we were informed that mum was being moved to high dependency to help with her breathing. Later mum was brought to theatre to regulate her breathing, and the doctor told us that she was critical. I thought to myself “no she isn't”, she just has a chest infection.
“Shortly after we were allowed to go and see mum, it was then we realised how ill she was and it became a nightmare from then on. The priest on duty gave mum the Last Rites and a blessing. I remember taking mum’s hand and begging her not to leave us and kissing her on the head. Sadly mum had another massive stroke and doctors suspected that she was brain stem dead. Shortly after that, we were asked to consider organ donation.”
Jennifer says her family’s decision to donate, at a time of extreme grief, was made easier as her mother was a very generous and loving woman.
“My mum was always a very kind, hardworking and loving person. She worked in Daisy Hill Hospital and later did home help with older people in our community before giving up her job to care for her grandchildren. She was a very generous person, helpful to neighbours and friends and never one to ask for help of others.
“In 2006, my sister Catherine’s baby Alexander died from organ failure, which at that time must have brought home the importance of organ donation to mum because she then signed the organ donation register. However, we were not aware of this until the medical staff advised us mum had registered to be an organ donor, and they asked us to consent to organ donation.
“Although this was one of the hardest decisions we have had to make as a family, upon reflection of Mum’s life, it was the most obvious decision we could have made. Mum was so brave and this gives me great comfort.”
Talking about organ donation wishes can help ensure loved ones aren’t left to make the final decision themselves during an intensely emotional time.
“The difficulty for us as her children was the fact that we never ever discussed this with mum and we were unaware of her decision until we were informed.
“So, although we agreed to donation and we knew we were honouring her wishes, I want to encourage everyone to have this conversation now.
“If signing the register is something you are brave enough to do, please let your nearest and dearest know so that they are prepared should they ever have to make the decision about donating your organs after you die.
“I can put my hand on my heart and say with confidence that we all carried out mum’s wishes and I know that she would be extremely proud of us for doing so.
“She was always a ‘giver’ and her choice to be an organ donor confirmed that to all of her family.
“We miss her every day; she filled our world with love and kindness.”