A FAMILY’S PAINFUL TRIBUTE TO TENNILLE
LEAVING her 40th birthday party Girgarre’s Tennille Smith, ever the bossy, organised older sister, turned to her brother Tyson and said cheekily: “Now don’t forget, it’s not long until Christmas. It’s time to start getting ready now.” Tennille’s other brother Cobey then dropped by her house before heading home. Giving her a final hug, he thanked her for the great night out. “I’ll talk to you soon,” she said, as always. But she didn’t, and never will. They would be the last words Cobey would ever hear his big sister say. Days later she was admitted to hospital after her apparent cold had mutated into something far more sinister.
By the time Cobey and Tyson Seamer stood at the foot of their sister’s hospital bed they were faced with the horror of agreeing to have her life support turned off.
And for her organs to be donated to people who would now get to live as a result of her death.
Tennille, a mother of three and living in Melbourne, had been battling severe pneumonia.
Her body weary from the merciless infection and her brain damaged beyond repair from oxygen deprivation, her medical team had already made its decision to recommend life support be withdrawn.
But not before they consulted Tennille’s family on donating her still healthy organs.
It was a place her family could not have imagined in their wildest dreams.
A decision they never imagined they’d have to even consider, let alone make.
But it only took a split-second for them all to reach the same answer.
Tennille — beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend — had lived her life with unbridled generosity. She would have wanted to donate her organs.
Sure enough, a quick check of the records confirmed what Tennille’s family had already known—she had registered to donate not once, but twice.
It was the final gift from a woman who had dedicated her life to helping others.
The next few hours were a blur as the doctors completed a series of checks, searching for recipients and preparing for a final surgery which would end Tennille’s life, but save others.
“It was shattering to know she was going to die,” Cobey said.
Now don’t forget, it’s not long until Christmas. It’s time to start getting ready now. I’ll talk to you soon’ Tennille Smith died 19 days later, never speaking to her brother again
❝It’s so important to get to the doctors and get tested. We don’t want for anyone to go through the same pain we have❞
“WE WERE so proud of her for donating her organs, but we didn’t want for her to suffer any more.
“While the doctors were confident she wasn’t in any pain at the time, we didn’t want to make her wait any longer. We just wanted for her to pass on peacefully.”
Tennille’s journey to that hospital bed began softly, with a cold.
It was October 8, her 40th birthday, and Tennille, husband Tim and their children Bailey, 13, Cooper, 9, and Harper, 20 months, gathered with family and friends to celebrate at a local homestead.
A cold had crept its way through the family and Tennille was its latest victim. But she wasn’t about to let a red nose get in the way of a good night out.
After several hours of laughter and conversation the evening came to a close and the family filed out the door of the homestead, stomachs full, the kids’ heads drooping sleepily.
When Tennille did present at hospital with flu-like symptoms, she came back clear when tested. Doctors diagnosed her with severe pneumonia.
Days later, her blood pressure plummeted, cutting the supply of oxygen to her brain and causing severe brain damage.
On October 27, doctors made the medical decision to turn off life support.
Since Tennille’s death her family has rapidly become embroiled in fierce debate over the quality of this year’s flu vaccine.
Some doctors are blaming the batch of flu vaccine for the staggering number of deaths this year, claiming there were better options available.
However, Tennille’s brothers are working to shift the focus off of medical debate, hoping instead their sister’s tragic passing will be a vital reminder for people to visit a GP if they suffer flu-like symptoms.
“Unfortunately, Tennille stayed in bed. It’s so important to get to the doctors and get tested,” Cobey said.
“We don’t want for anyone to go through the same pain we have.”
Tyson and Cobey also regret that political debate eclipsed the memory of who Tennille was to her family, friends and community. Tennille’s story began in Girgarre. The eldest daughter of Garry and Karen Seamer, she grew up with her mum and dad, nan and pa and two brothers on the family farm.
It was an idyllic childhood, with summers spent swimming in the irrigation channels and winters spent attending local footy games.
She climbed through the ranks in local schools—from kindy and primary school in Girgarre to high school at Kyabram Secondary College— making lifelong friendships along the way.
The kids treasured the end of the year when they’d go away for an annual beach trip. A tradition which Tennille—always the glue of the family—kept alive through the years.
After Year 12, Tennille studied nursing at Latrobe University in Wodonga, eventually fulfilling her dream of becoming a neonatal intensive care nurse.
“In her job, she looked after babies who were born prematurely or who were unwell,” Tyson said.
“It was an emotional job for her, as she had three young children, but she was so passionate about it. She was a very caring, compassionate, loving person and she was made for that job.”
While studying, Tennille met her husband Tim, who was in the army. After moving to Darwin and back several times, they eventually settled in Melbourne, where she began working at the Mercy Hospital for Women.
While nursing was high on Tennille’s list, she was most proud of her marriage to Tim and of her three children.
“Tennille was very big on making one-on-one time for her children. One week she’d take Bailey to the movies, the next she’d take Cooper out for dinner,” Cobey said.
Sharing a close bond with their mum, the boys couldn’t help but emulate her generosity.
Each Christmas they would sit down with her to sort through toys, bagging up any unwanted items for kids in need.
And that legacy of generosity will continue.
Less than a week ago, Tim took his kids out for dinner and asked them what they wanted to do with their mum’s belongings.
While the loss of their mother was still fresh in their minds, the boys were quick to look beyond their current struggles.
Echoing the philosophy his mum had lived out from her first day to her final breath, nine-year-old Cooper responded firmly, without a hint of hesitation.
“We could donate them to someone who needs them.”
Tennille’s brother Cobey has launched a GoFundMe page to support her and Tim’s children Bailey, Cooper and Harper. The page has already raised nearly $40 000. To give, go to www.gofundme.com/ynms56-flowerfree-4-bailey-cooper-harper
PRECIOUS MEMORIES: Tennille Smith pictured with her brothers Tyson and Cobey Seamer. They shared her 40th birthday party and then she was gone.
LOVING FAMILY — Tennille Smith pictured with husband Tim and their three children, Bailey, 13, Cooper, 9, and Harper, 20 months.