In last week’s Barnsley Chronicle I read the deeply moving and heart-breaking story of Joe Dale, the young lad who tragically died from a severe asthma attack in June 2017. Joe had just finished his GCSEs and had his whole life ahead of him when he died. As a parent, it is unimaginable to contemplate the pain and grief that Joe’s mum and dad, Jon and Helena, have endured over the last three years. Out of the tragedy of Joe’s death, it is hugely heartening that three more lives have been saved because his organs were donated. Three more people have been given hope and the chance of a longer, healthier life. Three families have been spared the pain that Jon and Helena – and all of Joe’s family – have endured.
Some of you may be familiar with the story Max Johnson and Keira Ball. For those who are not, there are few more powerful than Max and Keira’s. Keira Ball was just 9 when she died in a road accident. Despite the unimaginable grief, Keira’s parents bravely and selflessly chose to donate her organs, including her heart to a young boy, Max Johnson, who was in desperate need of a transplant. Max recovered from his operation and has been a champion of the new opt-out system.
It is the stories of Max, Keira and Joe that inspired me in my campaign for the law on organ donation to change, for an ‘opt-out’ system to be introduced so that everyone’s organs, unless you choose otherwise or are in an excluded category, are included on the organ donor register. The new law – fittingly dubbed Max and Keira’s Law – will save thousands of lives and give fresh hope to all those currently on organ donor waiting lists.
2020 has been a major year for Organ Donation. Back in May, changes to the rules on organ donation came into effect following the implementation of Max and Keira’s Law, which I was extremely proud to have taken through Parliament. It means that every adult in England is now considered to be a donor unless they opt-out or are excluded.
First and foremost, this law is about saving lives. Each year, hundreds of people die while waiting for a transplant and many more are suspended from the waiting list after becoming too ill to undergo the operation they so desperately need. There are currently more than four thousand people in the UK, who are living under a cloud of uncertainty, waiting and hoping for an operation that will save their life.
The new organ donation system is not a silver-bullet solution. We all still need to play our part. Firstly, by recording our choice on the NHS’s Organ Donor Register. Secondly, and crucially, by telling our loved ones what we want to happen to our organs after we die.
Sadly, not all the news this year has been good. The Coronavirus pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges for transplantation. We must ensure our NHS has the additional capacity to deal with the effect of this awful disease.
This week is Organ Donation Week. It is our opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us and the bravery of all those whose lives have been affected by organ donation. It is our opportunity to thank the amazing staff across NHS Blood and Transplant for the incredible work they do, saving the lives of thousands of people every year. It’s also our opportunity to take a moment to record and share your organ donation decision, it could mean that someone else is given hope.
This article was originally published on 11 September 2020 in the Barnsley Chronicle