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Hospital unveils memorial in honour of organ donation

A memorial is being unveiled at University Hospital of North Durham to honour members of the local community who have donated organs at the hospital.

In addition to a wall mounted stone memorial, individual remembrance stones have been embedded into the walkway approaching the main hospital entrance.

Paul Forster-Jones, a non-executive director at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and chair of the Trust's Organ Donation Committee said, "The memorial honours the 58 people who have donated organs since it first became possible at this hospital in 2010 - each of whom is honoured with an individual stone, around half of which bear the details of the donor and a dedication from their family.  The remaining stones are anonymous.  The memorial also pays tribute to the families who found the courage to see through their loved ones' wishes.

"These 58 donors have resulted in over 250 people receiving either life-saving or life transforming transplants.  A further 100 people have also benefited from transplants from donors at our other acute hospital, Darlington Memorial Hospital, meaning that almost 400 people have received a new chance at life as a result of the kindness of others in our community.

"This kind of memorial is known as a Stolpersteine, meaning 'stumbling stone'.  The concept aims to commemorate 'good people at their last place of life', and there are many thousands of them around the world.

"The North East has a great community spirit so it's no surprise to me that it's one of the top regions in the country for organ donation.  Unfortunately, however, less than 2% of all deaths in hospital are suitable for organ donation.  Although it's no longer necessary to be registered in order to be a donor, families can still choose not to consent - often because of uncertainty about their loved one's wishes.  So we strongly encourage people to have that difficult conversation with their family - making their wishes known.  Currently, more families refuse than give consent for organ donation than give their consent.  Of course, this is an incredibly difficult decision which is why it's important to remember and honour those who save others in this way.

"Tragically, every week people in our region die while waiting for an organ donation and many hundreds endure life-limiting treatments whilst waiting."

Sheila Burlison, a 61 year old former north east nurse, had a heart transplant in 2020, thanks to a donor.  She says, "Unfortunately, my heart was affected by treatment I received for breast cancer.  Prior to that I was always on the go, both at work and home.  I'd been unwell for seven years before my transplant, could no longer work and was in total heart failure.  Simply moving around at home became very difficult, I was so breathless all the time.

"When I got the call to say there was a heart for me, my first thoughts were for the poor family of the young man who had died.  I have subsequently met them and they told me it gave them comfort knowing something positive came out of their son's death.

"Although it was immediately prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the transplant totally transformed my life. It gave me a future - something I didn't think I had - I can look forward. It was and still is like a miracle. I can enjoy the simple things of daily life - working in my garden or even just going upstairs!  I will be forever grateful that this is all thanks to the generosity of a donor and their family."

Keith Parker lost his wife, Nicola, suddenly in 2018, when she was 70 years old.  "Nicola had Parkinson's for seven years but had a seizure which took her from us very suddenly and unexpectedly.

"I can't speak highly enough of the organ donor nurses who were incredibly kind.  But when they first came to see me to gently discuss the possibility of organ donation, it presented an enormous dilemma as it wasn't something Nicola and I had ever discussed and I had no idea of her wishes.  When the nurses told me Nicola had registered as a donor through her driving licence, all uncertainly lifted and I had no hesitation in fulfilling her wishes and giving the go-ahead.  Both Nicola's kidneys and one of her lungs went to people badly in need of them.  I've had letters from all three, which made me very proud and brought me some comfort.

"Nicola was someone who always wanted to make things as easy as possible for others and donating organs to give others an easier life is a fitting way to mark her own."

We also want to give thanks to and honour future donors who will be given the opportunity to be named and remembered on the memorial.

 

Published: 15 February 2023

 

'The treatment I have received from all the staff has been excellent and could you extend my thanks to them all. A very thankful and relieved patient'.

Patient, Dermatology Outpatients Department, University Hospital of North Durham