Three lives saved during pandemic thanks to Toddington mum making organ donation wishes clear to her children before her tragic death
'The question of donation was really simple for me because I knew exactly what my mum wanted'
A report out today from NHS Blood and Transplant shows that despite the strains that Covid-19 put on the NHS over the last year, 389 people in the East of England had their lives saved by an organ transplant.
The pandemic brought immense challenges for patients and their families who were often unable to visit, even when their loved one was seriously unwell. And consent for organ donation was even more difficult for families during the pandemic as the sensitive conversations often had to be done virtually rather than face to face.
One family who made the brave decision to agree to donation during the height of the pandemic last year was that of 58-year-old Elaine Franklin from Toddington.
Elaine was returning home from a local shop when she tragically collapsed outside the house she shared with her daughter Kayleigh. A hospital CT scan revealed she had a bleed on the brain and a few days following surgery saw Kayleigh and Elaine’s younger brother, Lee, receive the worst news from doctors.
Elaine had often talked about organ and tissue donation with Kayleigh and, when invited to talk to the specialist nurses about organ donation, Kayleigh felt there was no decision to be made.
Elaine went on to donate her liver, kidneys, heart valves, tissue and bone saving three lives in July 2020.
Kayleigh, Elaine’s daughter, says “The question of donation was really simple for me because I knew exactly what my mum wanted. We often talked about organ and tissue donation and my mum had given blood most of her life and was also signed up to the bone marrow and platelet donor registers.
“There are so many decisions to be made on behalf of the deceased and if we haven't talked about them, we will never know the answers, leaving us to constantly question if we have made the right ones. My mum took that burden away from me.
“Due to Covid restrictions, only myself and my mum's younger brother Lee got the opportunity to visit and say our goodbyes but the specialist nurses at Addenbrookes were amazing. They spent hours with Lee and I, talking us through the entire procedure.
“I know how much of a difference mum’s gift will have been made to these three people’s lives and the people around them. It fills me with such enormous pride and joy to know that my wonderful mum has made such an amazing difference.”
In total, 3,391 people in the UK had their lives saved thanks to 1,180 people donating their organs after death.
The Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Annual Activity Report 2020/21 shows that despite the global Covid-19 pandemic, levels were sustained at 75% of normal deceased donation activity and around 80% of normal transplant activity across the UK.
The number of patients registered on the active waiting list for a transplant in the East fell to 260 at the end of March 2021, however, this does not fully reflect the number of people who need an organ transplant. Many patients were removed from the transplant list or transplant programmes closed during the peak of the pandemic as it was riskier to carry out transplants and NHS resources were under extra pressure.
John Forsythe, Medical Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “This past year has been completely unprecedented in the history of the NHS, as well as in our wider society. So, the fact that 389 people in the East received an organ transplant is amazing.
“Each one of us in the wider clinical team of donation and transplant, across the UK, are immensely proud of the work to keep organ donation and transplants happening in the most challenging circumstances. But our commitment is nothing compared with donors and their families – the gift of life has been donated by 145 people in the East of England in the midst of a tragedy made even more difficult by Covid restrictions.
“However incredible this achievement, we mustn’t forget that there are still thousands of people in need of lifesaving organ transplants and we are doing our utmost to work with clinical teams and donor families to try and close the gap between those receiving a transplant and those still waiting.”
The number of families giving consent/authorisation for organ donation to go ahead has risen this year, from 68% to 69% overall for donation across the UK. This is particularly significant, as the pandemic and subsequent lockdown brought immense challenges for patients and their families. With many relatives often unable to visit or be with their loved ones in hospital, consent for organ donation was even more difficult for families.
The change in the law last May in England and in March 2021 in Scotland, means it will be assumed that people want to be a donor after death unless they register otherwise. Even though the law around organ donation has now changed, it is important to know that people still have a choice and families will still be consulted before organ donation goes ahead.
This new report shows the number of people opting to potentially be an organ donor after their death rose in 2020/21 and opt-in registrations on the NHS Organ Donor Register now stand at 26.7 million – with just 2 million opting out of deceased organ donation.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 also had an impact on living donation just as it did in most other countries. Living donor transplants fell to 32 in the East, this was due to the fact that the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme had to be paused for the safety of both the patient and the donor during the peak of the pandemic. This has now resumed, and every effort is being made to ensure that it continues to run smoothly.
Mr Forsythe continued: “We realise this has been a very worrying time for those patients who are waiting for a transplant and the families supporting those patients. We would like to reassure them that the recovery of organ donation and transplantation, both living and deceased, is well underway and deceased donation rates are back to pre-COVID levels thanks to the huge support of all those families who agree to donation and the clinical teams who work tirelessly to get the best outcome for patients.”
To view the Transplant Activity Report 2020/21 in full, visit: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/helping-you-to-decide/about-organ-donation/statistics-about-organ-donation/transplant-activity-report/