The shape of a heart has long been the symbol for Valentine's Day. This Valentine’s Day the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) is promoting organ donation and asking the public to consider registering for an organ donor card as well as buying a Valentine’s Day card this coming Thursday.
Two of the Western Trust’s cardiac patients who received a heart transplant in recent years, June Craig from Donemana and Stephen Kee from outside Omagh are helping us to promote the organ donation message.
Approximately 140 people in Northern Ireland are waiting on life-saving transplants and approximately 6,000 people in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, every year around 14 people in Northern Ireland die waiting for an organ transplant, highlighting the real shortage of organ donations.
June Craig from Donemana is a former District Nurse, she received a heart transplant after waiting 81 days on the transplant register. June is a mother of two adult boys and has two young granddaughters, with another one on the way! Speaking about her transplant experience, June said: “I had an inherited cardiac condition called Cardio Myopathy, this also affects other people in my family. I was working as a District Nurse and life was getting tougher, I was beginning to get heart failure. I kept going at work for as long as I could but I had to give up my work after I had total heart failure.
“I was taken to Freemans Hospital in Newcastle and told my only option was a heart transplant, luckily I only waited 81 days before I was told a potentially suitable heart had been found. You never know whether the heart will be suitable even though it has been matched. I was delighted and thankful that the donor heart was suitable for me.”
Stephen Kee from outside Omagh is also a heart transplant recipient, Stephen is a 55 year old married father of one. His transplant story is different in that he suffered a virus which attacked his heart. Stephen said: “I contracted a virus which was attacking my heart. After some medical intervention and what seemed to be a short recovery the virus returned again and proceeded to destroy the remainder of my heart.
“My journey to transplant was very rapid, four weeks in total approximately. I was on the official register for only five days. I was essentially in hospital dying with only a few days left to live when a donor heart became available. Without a donor I would not be here today.”
Speaking about her recovery, June added: “I am nearly three years’ post-transplant and I am doing very well. have achieved so much in those three years including attending my son’s wedding, being an active granny and being able to enjoy traveling again. Life is good! Without that special gift I wouldn’t have a story to tell.”
Explaining life after transplant, Stephen said: “The most significant change for me after my transplant was to be able to breathe, sit-up, walk and to function again. The physical improvements were so important, just to get out and get a breath of fresh air was so significant.”
Dr Declan Grace, Lead Clinician for Organ Donation at the Western Trust said: “Organ donation transforms and saves lives and the Western Trust encourages everyone to join the Organ Donor register and tell their loved ones that they wish to be a donor, so that they are aware of their wishes.
“Deciding to become an organ donor is entirely your decision but it does affect your family. After your death your next of kin will be consulted on whether your organs can be donated, even if you carry a donor card, and any decision they make will be respected. No one wants to think or talk about dying but set in the context of helping one or more than one person after death, the conversation becomes easier.
“June and Stephen tell a powerful story about how organ donation not only saved their lives but helped them to live life to the fullest again”