Make sure your loved ones know your decision on organ donation

When Aisling O’Connor, from West Cork, died in a tragic kayaking accident, four people benefited from her organs, sparking a debate about the importance of organ donation, writes DEIRDRE O’SHAUGHNESSY
Make sure your loved ones know your decision on organ donation
Aisling O'Connor, Skibbereen native who was living in Donegal and studying in the University of Limerick. Aisling died tragically following a kayak incident on the river Caragh in Kerry. The family donated Aisling's vital organs.Pic: Facebook.

WHEN I heard in a news bulletin that a young woman had been killed on a college kayaking trip, my heart sank.

I went to UL, I knew many members of the kayaking club, and I can only imagine the grief and shock among the college’s clubs and societies in the aftermath of this awful accident.

I thought, too, of the young woman’s family and their dreadful loss of such a promising future.

But when we received an email on Tuesday from that same young woman’s father, my jaw dropped.

Aisling O’Connor had just turned 21. She was, by her dad David’s account, loving, bubbly, bright, vivacious, caring, and always looking out for and thinking of other people.

David emailed us at 96fm in order to turn such a dreadful loss and tragedy into a positive. He asked us to tell our listeners that Aisling’s organs were being donated, and to remind them to make their wishes clear to family with regard to donating their organs.

“As I write this, my beautiful baby’s organs are being harvested to help the lives of others. Incredibly, within 10 minutes of her being pronounced dead yesterday, the liver transplant team identified Aisling as a perfect match for a patient of theirs. Even in death, Aisling continues to care for, enrich and help others in need.

“My hope is that all of her organs are viable and will give the gift of life to those who need it. Aisling would not have had it any other way,” he wrote.

The email reached over half a million people on social media, and it’s been reprinted in most of the newspapers.

WAITING

We heard emotional stories on the show from people on transplant waiting lists; people whose family members had received organs; and people who had themselves received donor organs.

All of them were adamant that organ donation should be an opt-out decision, rather than an opt-in. Legislation is currently in the system to provide for this, but aside from an announcement by Minister Harris in May, there has been no update on where that legislation is at the moment.

People waiting for organs can’t afford to wait until legislation is passed. It’s up to all of us as individuals to have that conversation with our loved ones so that there is no doubt. If something happens to you, make sure your loved ones know your wishes.

When the unthinkable happened to Aisling O’Connor, her family had no doubts. They felt Aisling’s generosity would extend beyond death and it has.

They told us that four people had received organs from Aisling. That’s four families who now do not have to go through the pain Aisling’s family experienced this week.

FATE

Then I got an email from a lady who wished — and had — to remain anonymous.

Her brother, who is 18, received a kidney on Tuesday. He’s been on dialysis for a year, and all they were told was that his new kidney came from a young woman.

Ireland is a small country, and there are strict protocols around organ donation being anonymous, for very good reasons.

But in her correspondence to me, the lady said she and her family feel very strongly that her brother has received Aisling’s kidney.

“Thank you for sharing that interview,” she wrote, “because thanks to Aisling my brother’s life has been saved, and she has unknowingly changed the lives of not only him, but myself, my mam and my dad.

“I know recipients of organs aren’t meant to get in contact with the donor or their family but I would love somehow for Aisling’s family to know that she has saved lives, and that hopefully might give them some sort of joy at this truly awful time. May she rest in peace.”

IMPORTANT MESSAGE

For a family to make the effort to help others at such a horrific time in their lives, is outstandingly selfless. Aisling learned her kindness and generosity at home, that much is clear.

The response to David’s email was overwhelming.

People whose loved ones received organs, who got transplants themselves and people waiting for transplants all contacted us to thank the O’Connors for their courage and generosity.

The O’Connors’ generosity has saved four families the anguish they are going through this week. But in spreading this message, the ripple effect will change countless lives.

Listeners to our show, users of social media and readers of newspapers all over Ireland and beyond have been moved by David O’Connor’s pleas.

WHY NOT

It’s hard to see why anyone would object to organ donation. It’s the one time we can give something without losing anything ourselves. It’s the only opportunity most of us will ever have to simply and purely save a life without risking a thing ourselves. When we are dead, we have nothing left to lose. But we have everything to give.

To get your organ donor card, see www.ika.ie.

Deirdre O’Shaughnessy is the producer and co-presenter of the 96FM, Opinion Line.

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