‘l lost my son but gained a daughter.’
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