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We Must Speak To Loved Ones About Death And Organ Donation

04/09/2017 09:15 BST | Updated 04/09/2017 09:15 BST
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It's my job to meet with families at a time when their loved one is close to death or has died.

I am a specialist nurse in Organ Donation (SNOD) working for NHS Blood and Transplant. I offer the option of organ donation - where appropriate, because only around 1% of people die in circumstances where they can donate - and support families to make a decision.

Many people are still unaware their relatives have the final say on that decision even if they are on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

However it is infinitely easier to have these conversations when the relatives already know the patient wanted to donate, through registration or through a conversation in life. I regularly see the burden families feel in making such a decision at such a difficult and challenging time.

For many families, sadly, the default response is to say 'no' if they are unsure about what their relative would have wanted. This is sometimes the right decision but on occasion I have known families to regret this.

I have taken a phone call in the middle of the night from a distraught mother who has regretted saying 'no' to donating her sons organs and asking me if was too late - sadly it was.

There are many patients waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant that never receive one. Around 460 patients die each year whilst waiting for a transplant while on the active waiting list.

With the lack of organ donors many patients waiting for a transplant have no quality of life as they become progressively sicker. More than 800 people a year are removed from the waiting list, mainly due to being too ill for a successful transplant operation, and many of them will go on to die.

One of the many benefits of my job role is to be a link for donor families and transplant recipients. Occasionally a transplant recipient will write a letter to the family of the organ donor and I will get to read this before I pass it on.

It is truly incredible how people's lives are saved and changed through organ transplants and keeping this in mind encourages me in my role. It is so rewarding to support grieving families through an organ donation process and to care for the patient who has died but of course it can sometimes be very emotionally challenging.

As a society we should not shy away from conversations around dying. The prospect of organ donation is just one part of many options available to us as a way to help others in the event of our death.

This week is Organ Donation Week - a time when I would encourage you all to speak to your loved ones to know their wishes and for them to know yours.

A few words now can make an extraordinary difference to people who have no hope other than a stranger choosing to donate.

And by telling your family that you want to save lives in the event of your death, you will make things much easier for your family should they ever be in a position to be asked.

If you are unsure if you want to be an organ donor at least ask yourself the question - would you be willing to accept an organ transplant if you needed one?

If you would be willing to accept one -shouldn't you be willing to give one too?