THE BLOG

Organ Donation: How a Small Act of Kindness Can Leave An Eternal Legacy

18/04/2016 20:40

The phone woke me up at seven. I knew something was wrong immediately. My father sounded different, more solemn than usual "Adam... do you remember when Dom contracted hepatitis in the summer? Last night things took a turn for the worse. The doctors think he has liver failure." I asked if he was okay. "He's in a coma. The doctors aren't sure if he'll pull through." I booked a flight from Gothenburg (where I now reside) to London within minutes of ending the call; I had to be there.

Dom is my brother's partner of four years. While he's not a blood relative, he's no less part of the family. Three months prior to this phone call he had awoke one morning with jaundice. He's the reluctant type, so my brother Lewis, urged him to visit his local GP, who told him that he had contracted hepatitis E from an uncooked pork sausage. He was given antibiotics and told not to drink any alcohol.

Three months passed and Dom seemed to be getting better; but then, completely out-of-the-blue, Lewis arrived home to find him delirious and unable to remember the date or even his own name. He called the NHS helpline and an ambulance was sent immediately. He was taken to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, and within hours of arriving, placed into a medically induced coma. The next morning, arrangements for his transfer to Kings College Hospital were underway.

Dom was airlifted to London without any problems. Fortunately, a bed was available and the weather was on his side. Upon arriving, he was immediately taken to the Liver Intensive Therapy Unit (LITU). By this time he was in such a fragile state simply rolling him over could have caused fatal internal bleeding. His blood was 13 times thinner than it should have been; too dangerous for a biopsy, let alone an operation. The first priority was to stabilise his blood. It took three days of constant care and monitoring before the team could move forward.

While the doctors were more optimistic at Kings College Hospital, they concluded that a full liver transplant was the only possible treatment. Dom was immediately placed at the top of the UK's transplant list. It was a strange few days. We were hoping for a liver as soon as possible, but of course, that also meant that somebody else had to die; somebody healthy, able-bodied and with the same blood type. The doctors stated that it usually takes around three days, but it wasn't until the forth day that we finally received the news.

The operation was a success and Dom woke up in strangely good spirits. His mother filled him in, "You're in London, you've had a liver transplant and you've been asleep for two weeks." In true Dom fashion, he simply responded, "Awesome". The following day a biopsy was undertaken, but Dom's liver was in such a bad state, it was no longer a solid organ; the cells weren't even recognisable as liver cells under a microscope. Doctors suspect that the liver failure was caused by a genetic condition called Wilson's Disease - an illness that prevents the body from dispelling excess copper - but they will never be 100% certain.

Dom has experienced a major, life-changing event, but fortunately he's still with us and recovering very quickly. Over six months have passed since his operation and he's now down to just one pill a day. Dom knows nothing about his organ donor, apart from that he was a man, aged 29, who was declared legally brain-dead. While this stranger's premature death is a terrible event, hopefully his family feel comfort knowing that he could have saved the lives of up to eight people. Whoever he was, however he lived his life, he is a true hero, leaving a legacy that will be remembered and admired for generations.

According to the NHS more than 500,000 people die each year in the United Kingdom, yet only 5,000 of them are able to become organ donors. With an average of 7,000 people on the national transplant list at any given time, there are simply not enough organs to go around. Signing up to the NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR) takes approximately two minutes - less than the time it takes to brew a cup of tea. This seemingly small act of kindness could one day save someone's life.

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