Donor’s fam­ily meets re­cip­i­ent

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - Vir­ginia Fal­lon Mindy Decker What leg­is­la­tion will look like

A year af­ter Jamie Shen­nan died, his mum heard his heart beat.

She heard it in a ho­tel res­tau­rant and, when she was done, passed the stetho­scope to Jamie’s dad so he could lis­ten.

Jamie was 22 when he died and – like the rest of him – his heart was big and healthy and strong. And now it was beat­ing in the chest of a 60-year-old woman.

It was mid­night on June 11, 2018, when Jamie’s or­gans be­gan their new jour­ney, their new lives, in five new bod­ies.

Five days ear­lier, the Napier man and two of his col­leagues were sight­see­ing in the Amer­i­can state of Ore­gon when their car was hit from be­hind while they were giv­ing way to an­other ve­hi­cle.

The back-seat pas­sen­ger died im­me­di­ately, while Jamie and his 25-year-old col­league were raced to hos­pi­tal with cat­a­strophic brain in­juries.

Back in Napier, when told her boy wouldn’t sur­vive his in­juries and that his brain would be dead within 24 hours, Fiona Sheenan’s re­ac­tion was in­stant.

‘‘I said ‘he’s a donor, check his New Zea­land li­cence’ . . . and there it was in black and white.’’ Jamie’s wishes to be a donor were no se­cret to his fam­ily – they’d had ‘‘the talk’’ – and Fiona said no­body baulked when the mo­ment came, bar just one de­tail.

‘‘The only thing I couldn’t bear for them to take were his beau­ti­ful brown eyes – they were the win­dows to his soul – but af­ter­wards I re­gret­ted that.’’

By the time Fiona and Grant had raced to their son’s side, his brain had died, and – once the forms were filled out and the tests were run, the har­vest­ing of his or­gans be­gan.

His left kid­ney went to a me­chanic in his 40s; his right kid­ney to a mar­ried fa­ther in his 50s; his liver to a fa­ther of seven chil­dren; his pan­creas to a woman in her 50s, and tis­sue from his lungs and small in­tes­tine went to be used for re­search.

And his heart?

Al­most a year to the day that Jamie died, his par­ents trav­elled to the United States where, in the chest of 60-year-old Mindy Decker, sounded the heart of their son.

A bill to im­prove ac­cess to or­gan do­na­tion is cur­rently mak­ing its way through Par­lia­ment.

The bill is bi­par­ti­san, mean­ing it has the sup­port of both the Govern­ment and the Op­po­si­tion.

Its goal is to in­crease or­gan do­na­tion in New Zea­land by im­prov­ing lev­els of com­pen­sa­tion for those who do­nate, and by es­tab­lish­ing a new na­tional or­gan agency to over­see do­na­tions. This de­ci­sion was made af­ter con­sul­ta­tion on the na­tional strat­egy for in­creas­ing de­ceased or­gan do­na­tion found that an agency in­de­pen­dent of dis­trict health boards should take on the role.


Fiona lis­tened first, and when she was fin­ished Mindy wrapped an arm around her as she sobbed: her hand still against the stranger’s chest.

‘‘I knew it wasn’t Jamie, there was noth­ing like that but it was so spe­cial.’’

Mindy had been near death be­fore the trans­plant and Fiona said the trio in­stantly connected: ‘‘We had laughs, we cried, we shared pho­tos.’’

In Port­land, in the res­tau­rant, Mindy lis­tened to record­ings of Jamie play­ing the key­board and gui­tar.

He was good at that, his mum said. As soon as the trio met, Mindy asked if Fiona and Grant wanted to hear Jamie’s heart.

‘‘Lit­tle did she know we had also taken a stetho­scope and were wait­ing for a mo­ment to say, ‘Can we lis­ten to your heart?’

‘‘Beau­ti­fully she put it: ‘It is our heart’.’’ Jamie came home three weeks af­ter his death.

A plane char­tered by the com­pany he had worked for car­ried him for his fi­nal trip.

The grief is ter­ri­ble, Fiona says, but there is so­lace in what her boy did for at least five other peo­ple who would have oth­er­wise died.

A trace of Jamie’s beat­ing heart taken on Decker’s one-year check-up is tat­tooed close to Fiona’s own heart, a heart that was bro­ken in June last year.

‘‘We’ve lost our boy but what he’s given to so many oth­ers makes it just a bit eas­ier.’’



Fiona Shen­nan’s son, Jamie, died af­ter a car crash in the United States in 2018 when he was 22. She has shared the fam­ily’s story of do­nat­ing his or­gans and meet­ing one of the re­cip­i­ents, Mindy Decker.

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