Real life

‘l lost my son but gained a daugh­ter.’

Friday - - Friday Contents - Lily Tur­ley, 52, lives in Glas­gow

P lac­ing the plate on the ta­ble, I watched my son Daryl smile. It was Satur­day morn­ing and I’d made his favourite snack, a toasted cheese sand­wich.

“Thanks, Mum,’’ he said, gob­bling it down. Then he was up again, putting on his jacket, off to see his friend a few streets away.

“Typ­i­cal teenager!” I smiled. But half way out of the door, he turned and walked back to me. “Love you, Mum,’’ he said, throw­ing his arms around me. “I love you too, son,’’ I said, giv­ing him a squeeze.

Daryl, 13, had al­ways been very af­fec­tion­ate and car­ing. He was kind to his friends and loved cud­dling his young nieces and neph­ews. He made me so proud. He was cheeky and funny but re­ally kind-hearted, quite like my older son Billy.

Hours later, I was at my job as a carer when my mo­bile rang. It was my hus­band David and his voice sounded strange. He said, “There’s been an ac­ci­dent.’’

Fear pulsed through me. I lis­tened in hor­ror as he ex­plained that Daryl had been hit by a mo­tor­bike as he crossed a road on his way home. He’d been rushed to hospi­tal in Glas­gow, Scot­land, where we live.

I dropped ev­ery­thing and dashed to the hospi­tal. We were told that he had se­ri­ous head in­juries and was in a med­i­cally in­duced coma. I was al­lowed to go into the ICU and I stayed by his side all night.

We hoped against hope that he would pull through.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, he had a brain scan and then the doc­tor came to see us. He said, “I’m sorry, but there’s noth­ing more that we can do for your son.’’

Daryl’s brain had swollen, cut­ting off the blood sup­ply. In ef­fect, he was brain-dead and the doc­tors could do noth­ing. I re­fused to be­lieve it. “But he’s still breath­ing and his heart is still pump­ing,’’ I said, shak­ing my head. “The only thing keep­ing him alive now is the ven­ti­la­tor,’’ the doc­tor ex­plained.

I felt as though my heart had been ripped into tiny pieces. I slumped in David’s arms and sobbed. My boy’s life had only just be­gun. He was so young, so clever, funny and lov­ing and had his whole life ahead of him.

He was a fish­ing fa­natic and had so many plans for his fu­ture. How could this be hap­pen­ing?

I was to­tally numb with shock. It was only a day be­fore that he hugged and kissed me and told me how much he loved me and now here he was… about to die. In the midst of this dev­as­ta­tion, a doc­tor came up to David and me. “I know it is a very dif­fi­cult time you are go­ing through,” he said. “But I’d like to ask: Would you con­sider donat­ing Daryl’s or­gans?”

At first I didn’t un­der­stand; my mind was fo­cused on Daryl. But the doc­tor ex­plained that, de­spite his in­juries, it would be pos­si­ble to do­nate our son’s healthy or­gans. “They might save other lives,” he said.

It was too much. All I wanted to do was shut out the world and mourn for my son.

But David reached for my hand and said, “If the doc­tor told us that giv­ing Daryl a do­nated or­gan would save him, we’d ac­cept that or­gan, wouldn’t we?’’

That kind of ex­plained ev­ery­thing. I nod­ded my head. I re­alised that if we could stop some other par­ents, some­where, from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this

I was to­tally numb, only a day be­fore he’d told me how­much he loved me, and here was, about to die

agonyagony, it would be worth itit. “It’s what Daryl would want too,’’ I whis­pered, through my tears.

As the doc­tor went to ar­range ev­ery­thing, Daryl re­mained on a life-sup­port ma­chine for the next few hours. A trans­plant co­or­di­na­tor called Su­san Han­nah was as­signed to look af­ter us. She spoke to us at length and was with us all through, ex­plain­ing ev­ery­thing to us.

The rest of our im­me­di­ate fam­ily came to say their good­byes.

Then Su­san ar­ranged for Daryl to be moved into a larger bed. I had re­quested this just so I could be next to him and cud­dle him. As I lay there with my arms around him, he was un­con­scious but still warm and even though I knew that he was alive only be­cause of the ma­chines, it was like he was just asleep. I still could not be­lieve that he was brain-dead.

I stroked his face and breathed in his scent. I laid my head on his chest and lis­tened to his heart beat­ing. It sounded so strong and healthy. “Why?” I kept ask­ing. “Why did this have to hap­pen to you?”

I wanted to stay like this with him for­ever.

I don’t know how long I stayed like that un­til I felt Su­san slowly pat­ting my shoul­der. “It’s time,” she said gen­tly. I gave Daryl one last hug and kissed him.

“I will hear this heart­beat some­where again one day,’’ I whis­pered, be­fore reluc­tantly get­ting up from the bed.

Then David and I watched as our son was wheeled away to surgery. We did not wait around long in the hospi­tal. A friend drove us to our home, which was now an empty

shell, with­out Daryl. I sat and stared for hours at the rum­pled sheets on his bed and at the clothes in­side his wardrobe. I kept ex­pect­ing him to burst in and ask for a toasted cheese sand­wich, or crack a joke and give me a hug.

At his fu­neral the fol­low­ing week, we were overwhelmed by the out­pour­ing of love from fam­ily and friends. Then, as the weeks went by, we strug­gled with grief and anger that our son had been wrenched away from us.

We re­ceived a let­ter from the Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS) trans­plant team and learnt that four of Daryl’s or­gans had been suit­able for do­na­tion – his heart, liver, kid­neys and bowel.

Each or­gan had been suc­cess­fully trans­planted, sav­ing the lives of five people (in­clud­ing two who had ben­e­fit­ted from the kid­neys), rang­ing in age from two to 33 years old.

“Well done, son,’’ I thought. I con­soled my­self that his death was not in vain – it had at least man­aged to let five people live. That thought was some­how a calm­ing fac­tor and helped me cope with the grief.

Four months later, I had a phone call from the trans­plant co­or­di­na­tor, Su­san, ask­ing if I could meet her for a cof­fee. In the café, she handed me an

She loved hear­ing about the boy who’d saved her life, even vis­it­ing his grave to say thank you

en­ve­lope ad­dressed to me. In­side, was a hand­writ­ten let­ter.

As I read the words, tears be­gan to stream from my eyes.

The let­ter was from a young woman – 18 at the time – called Cara Hearst. A few months ear­lier, she’d been in hospi­tal, dy­ing from liver fail­ure. As she and her fam­ily were los­ing hope, a donor liver had be­come avail­able, she wrote. It was Daryl’s.

“The trans­plant saved my life,” she wrote. “I want to thank you in per­son for this in­cred­i­ble gift and to find out more about the boy who saved me.”

Su­san said it was very rare for or­gan re­cip­i­ents and the fam­i­lies of donors to meet. “Re­cip­i­ents are some­times wor­ried about in­trud­ing on a fam­ily’s grief,’’ she said.

“So I want to ask you if you are OK with meet­ing Cara and her fam­ily.” “I want to meet Cara,’’ I said, overwhelmed with grat­i­tude. Two months later, Su­san col­lected me from my home and drove me to a ho­tel close by.

I was trem­bling with nerves as I stepped in­side the ho­tel foyer. All kinds of thoughts about my son and his death be­gan to flood my mind. I held Su­san’s arm tightly. My hus­band didn’t want to meet Cara.

In one cor­ner of the foyer I caught sight of a beau­ti­ful young woman with glow­ing skin and long hair. For some rea­son, I im­me­di­ately knew that was Cara.

She recog­nised Su­san and im­me­di­ately walked to­wards us with a huge smile on her face. Her cheeks were pink and she looked healthy, de­spite it only be­ing two months since her oper­a­tion.

“That’s down to you, Daryl!’’ I thought. She put her arms around me and it felt as though I had al­ways known her.

Cara was with her mum, Eileen. We sat and talked and Cara told me that she lived in Belfast, North­ern Ire­land. She’d been study­ing for her A-lev­els when she’d be­come des­per­ately ill.

Tests had re­vealed that she was suf­fer­ing from a rare ge­netic con­di­tion called Wil­son’s dis­ease, which causes liver fail­ure. She’d been taken to a specialist hospi­tal in Lon­don, where doc­tors had said that she would die in a few days with­out an ur­gent liver trans­plant.

Whilst I was say­ing my good­byes to Daryl, Cara’s par­ents had been pre­par­ing to say their good­byes to her. Then, out of nowhere, Daryl had given her a sec­ond chance at life.

I’d brought a gift for Cara – a photo of Daryl, which had been taken on hol­i­day a few weeks be­fore his death. “Can I keep it?’’ she asked, and I was touched when she put it in her purse and said that she’d carry it with her al­ways.

As we said good­bye, I felt we’d never meet again. But Cara wanted to stay in touch. “You don’t owe me any­thing,’’ I told her. “Please don’t feel obliged.’’ But she smiled and said, “I want to keep see­ing you, Lily.’’

Over the next few months, our friend­ship blos­somed. We’d meet up when­ever we could, drink­ing cof­fee to­gether and chat­ting. Af­ter ev­ery­thing we’d been through, we un­der­stood each other per­fectly and felt at ease in each other’s com­pany.

I loved hear­ing about her life – about her friends and her stud­ies. We’d pour our hearts out to each other, talk­ing about ev­ery­thing from re­la­tion­ships to our favourite TV shows. I had never had a daugh­ter but now I started to un­der­stand the joy of shared con­fi­dences.

We of­ten talked about Daryl. She loved hear­ing about the boy who had saved her life and even took the time to visit his grave, lay­ing flow­ers and say­ing an emo­tional thank you.

We both felt pas­sion­ately about rais­ing aware­ness on or­gan do­na­tion. To­gether with Su­san Han­nah, we gave talks at med­i­cal sem­i­nars, shar­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences. It gave me a re­newed sense of pur­pose in life – some­thing I’d lost af­ter Daryl’s death.

Los­ing my son was the most painful thing that has ever hap­pened to me but meet­ing Cara has been one of the most up­lift­ing.

Meet­ing Cara helped me deal with the loss of my son

Su­san was there for sup­port at my first meet­ing with Cara

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