Eunice - Interview 14
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Eunice’s daughter, Kirstie, sadly died after a car accident in 2006, aged 26. She was travelling to work with her partner when the accident happened. In hospital, Eunice, her family and Kirstie’s partner were told that Kirstie had had extensive brain damage and doctors did not expect her to survive. After some surgery, Kirstie was taken to intensive care.
Eunice and her husband, Kirstie’s father, decided that, in the event of Kirstie’s death, they would want to donate her organs as this is what Kirstie had wanted. She had registered for organ donation at the age of fifteen. They discussed the decision with their other daughter, Kirstie’s younger sister, and Kirstie’s partner, and told doctors about their decision.
Kirstie was later transferred from the local hospital to a city hospital. Eunice said, ‘We then had a further meeting with the intensive care staff and the donor co-ordinator [specialist nurse], who explained that they were going to do the brain stem test and then, depending on the results – but everybody knew what they were going to be. They would then take it the step further and do whatever needed to be done. Unfortunately, when they did the brain stem testing, Kirstie carried on breathing so she was no longer brain stem criteria. So it was then a case of having to turn her machines off. We then had a meeting with the donor co-ordinator and decided what organs we wanted to donate.’ Kirstie’s lungs, liver, kidneys and heart valves were donated.
Eunice praised the care Kirstie had received from doctors and nurses in both hospitals and the support from the specialist nurse [donor co-ordinator], who gave them locks of Kirstie’s hair and handprints. They heard from one recipient almost immediately after Kirstie’s death. On the anniversary of her death, Eunice contacted the donor co-ordinator because they wanted more information about the other recipients. Around this time, they received a letter from a young lady who had received Kirstie’s lungs.
Eunice said they would like updates annually about the recipients and feels ‘let down’ by the co-ordinator because this has never happened. Kirstie gave ‘the gift of life’ to five people but they heard from only two of the recipients.
Four years on, Eunice said her husband was ready to meet the recipient of Kirstie’s lungs but she herself has found it very difficult and had not answered any of the letters they had received. She said, ‘Although it’s nearly four years, it’s still raw, really quite raw. And I have lots to say to her, but it’s just putting pen to paper. It’s baring my soul, that’s what it’s doing and it makes me very vulnerable. And, as silly as it sounds, I’m frightened to meet any of them in case I don’t like them. Because Kirstie was very special and what she’s done makes her even more special, that’s as far as I’m concerned. And I’m just frightened that if I was to meet somebody that had one of her organs and I didn’t like them, and then it would spoil how I feel about it.’
Eunice would have liked more information about the process of inquests and, understandably, found the inquest very difficult. Kirstie died in December but they were unable to register her death until May because of the inquest.
Eunice and her husband gained some support from bereavement counselling. They also had a lot of support from friends and family, including Kirstie’s general manager at work, who became a good friend. They now meet up with him several times a year, including on Kirstie’s birthday and around the anniversary of her death.
Eunice has been involved in raising awareness of organ donation. She and her family are very proud of Kirstie and the ‘gift of life’ she gave to five people.
Kirstie had a car accident on her way to work. She was airlifted by ambulance and taken to...
Kirstie had a car accident on the M20 on December 5th 2006. She was travelling to work with her partner in the car. It was just one of those freak accidents. Kirstie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody else was involved. Her car spun and a barrier went through the roof of her car.
Kirstie was the only one injured. [Kirstie’s partner] got out, no injuries at all. She was airlifted by [place name] Air Ambulance to a hospital in [place name], where she stayed for two days.
When we arrived at the hospital we were told from the beginning that Kirstie’s injuries were really major and nobody expected her to live. She had extensive brain damage. And at the [local] hospital they took her into surgery, mainly just to, because she had a quite an extensive gap in her head. They took her into theatre just to sew it up. And then took her into the intensive care where, this all happened on the Tuesday morning.
Kirstie registered for organ donation before she was given a moped on her 16th birthday. Eunice...
[Husband’s name] and I decided that we thought that if we lost Kirstie we wanted to donate her organs because we knew that it was what Kirstie would want to do.
We made our feelings felt to the medical staff at the hospital in [place name]. On the Wednesday again, they pack no punches, they told us that they thought that Kirstie was going to die.
And we discussed the organ donation with our other daughter and with [Kirstie’s partner] as well. And then on the Wednesday evening they told us that they were going to transfer Kirstie up to a London hospital. Which they did overnight on the Wednesday night.
On the Thursday we had a meeting with the medical staff of the intensive care, and again we made it known to them that we would, we wanted to consider, or we were considering donating Kirstie’s organs.
We then had a meeting with the donor co-ordinator and decided what organs we wanted to donate. There was a bit of a conflict between us and [Kirstie’s partner] because he was a bit sceptical. He didn’t know that he really wanted us to donate her organs.
But, as much as I’d said to him from day one, I would always talk to him. We would always discuss everything that needed to be discussed, because I was Kirstie’s next of kin I would overrule, if I wanted something and he didn’t, I would overrule it.
People often say to [my husband] and I how brave we are. We weren’t brave at all. It was Kirstie who was brave and she’d also signed up to the donor register when she was 15 because she had a, we bought her a little moped for her 16th birthday. So she’d applied for her driving licence and she’d filled it in on the driving licence. So she was the brave one, not us. And we just followed her wishes at the end of the day.
Eunice has never regretted consenting to organ donation. On a bad day, it helps her to know that...
We were lucky, we made that decision, we wasn’t asked. Had Kirstie died on the Tuesday when she had her accident and somebody had come along and said to me, “Will you donate her organs?” I don’t know how I would have reacted, because we had five days to come to terms with what was happening and say our goodbyes and make all our decisions.
But for somebody who walks into a hospital to be told a loved one has passed away and that they’ve got them on a breathing machine or whatever, to have to make a decision like that is something totally different.
We’re all glad that we’ve done it. And sometimes it’s what gets me up in the mornings. If I’m having a bad day, it’s what gets me up in the mornings, knowing that there is something of Kirstie still out there. She gave the gift of life which is, what it is, to five other people and their families. And it is the families as well because they have been involved in hospital visits and all the trauma that goes with it. So it gives them a new lease of life as well. So yeah, she’s out there somewhere and doing good.
The city hospital was more impersonal than the local one but the care was second to none in...
The medical staff, as I say, I cannot fault. They were wonderful. They took us up to theatre. They spent time with us in theatre. And then they left us to have our time with her [daughter] on our own. And, as I say, the donor co-ordinator [specialist nurse] followed everything up with me afterwards. The care that, and the nursing that she got was second to none, I can’t fault it. It was just the [city] hospital was very impersonal.
And did you feel satisfied with the information you were getting from the health professionals and support during that time?
Oh definitely. Definitely. Words like catastrophic, I’ve never heard related to a medical term before. But we were told her injuries were catastrophic, and now I hear it all the time on the television.
And another, the Neurological Consultant told us that her injuries were irreversible. At the time they were very hard to grasp and understand but now we can see it’s, the only thing I can say about the [city] Hospital, they would tell us that the medical staff wanted a meeting with us, and we would go into this little room. And we would be left in this little room for half an hour on our own. And I think that was horrible.
Yes I understand that we go into a private room to be talked to and explained and told us what they were doing and everything. But to be left in there for that length of time, first I found was quite unnerving and we just knew when they called us, we were going into that little room to get more bad news. So I would say, if anybody was to ask me once we’re, that the family are taken into that little room, the medical staff go in at the same time. So that they’re not left to just, it’s not nice, it’s not nice. But that is one of the only things, one of the only negative things I can say really.
Eunice said the specialist nurse was wonderful but she would like having annual updates on the...
The donor co-ordinator [specialist nurse], I couldn’t fault her. She was wonderful. She took locks of Kirstie’s hair and she took hand prints, and she sent them to us so that we, different people had the things for me. She then wrote to us and told us what they had, to confirm what they’d removed. And she told us that a young lady had her lungs, who had cystic fibrosis. Two men had her kidneys, another one had her liver, and a six-day-old baby had one lot of her heart valves. I understand that heart valves can be kept for so long, so as yet I don’t know whether her other valves have been used.
We had a letter, virtually immediately from one of the men who had her kidneys thanking us and just saying how wonderful we were. Then I contacted the donor co-ordinator [specialist nurse] on the anniversary of Kirstie dying, a year on, and she got me information about the recipients, which were all doing well. And at the same time we received a letter from the young lady who had her lungs, which was wonderful. It really was good.
I have since had another update, which is one of the things I do have an issue with unfortunately. Our donor co-ordinator left to have a baby and, although her caseloads got passed on, I’ve never had any contact with the donor co-ordinators in the London hospital since.
I did a thing back in April with Donor Family Network, at the hospital where Kirstie was in [place name] and spoke to a donor co-ordinator from there, who did manage to get me further information about the recipients. So I do feel that we have been let down where that thing is concerned because, as a donor family, you give up something very precious and it I think that someone somewhere along the line could just keep you, being as I showed an interest in the first place, I just feel that on a yearly basis, on the anniversary of Kirstie dying or whatever, somebody could just send us an update regarding the recipients.
Eunices daughter, Kirstie, had a car accident on her way to work. She was airlifted to hospital,...
Kirstie had a car accident on the M20 on December 5th, 2006. She was travelling to work with her partner in the car. It was just one of those freak accidents. Kirstie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody else was involved. Her car spun and a barrier went through the roof of her car. Kirstie was the only one injured. [Kirstie’s partner] got out, no injuries at all. She was airlifted by [place name] Air Ambulance to a hospital in [place name], where she stayed for two days.
When we arrived at the hospital we were told from the beginning that Kirstie’s injuries were really major and nobody expected her to live. She had extensive brain damage. And at the [local] hospital they took her into surgery, mainly just to, because she had a quite an extensive gap in her head, they took her into theatre just to sew it up. And then took her into the intensive care where, this all happened on the Tuesday morning.
At first, Eunice couldnt imagine ever feeling better. She cried every day. Over time, her...
They say time’s a good healer. It’s not. You learn to live with it. It does get better. In the first, when it first happens, you can’t see the wood for the trees. You can’t see that it’s ever going to get any better. It does. You stop crying. You don’t cry every day. I used to have, I used to say what a good day, how good my day was by how many times I’d cried in the course of the day. And on the days, as it got better, that I could say, “I haven’t cried today,” was an exceptional day.
All I can say to somebody who’s going through what we’ve been through, and what we are going through, is talk about them. Don’t be ashamed to cry. It doesn’t matter where you are when you cry. The silliest things make you cry. You can be walking down the street and something happens and, if you’ve got to cry, then you do it because it’s the right thing at the right time.
It is still too soon for Eunice to meet her daughters recipient. She hadnt been able to write...
My husband’s at the stage where he’d like to meet the recipient of Kirstie’s lungs. I must admit I have never answered her letter. Only, I want to, but only because I don’t find the right words just at the moment. It’s still,
It’s okay, it’s okay. Just take your time.
Although it’s nearly four years,
Take your time.
No, no. Take your time, there’s no rush at all.
Although it’s nearly four years it’s still raw, really quite raw. And I have lots to say to her, but it’s just putting it, putting pen to paper. It’s baring my soul, that’s what it’s doing and it makes me very vulnerable.
And, as silly as it sounds, I’m frightened to meet any of them in case I don’t like them. Because I mean Kirstie was very special and what she’s done makes her even more special, that’s as far as I’m concerned. And I’m just frightened that if I was to meet somebody that had one of her organs and I didn’t like them, and then I’d be, it would spoil how I feel about it.
Eunice and her husband grieved differently. He was angry but she found it hard to talk. She felt...
[My husband] and I grieved totally differently. When Kirstie first died, [my husband] found it very hard when Kirstie first died to…. he was angry. He was very, very angry. He would tell anybody, if somebody stood still long enough, he would tell them that he’d just lost Kirstie. And he was very angry. There wasn’t anybody to blame. There was nobody else involved in the accident. Sometimes I think it would have been easier if there had been somebody else because we could have blamed them. But there was nobody else to blame. And [my husband], he was very, very angry.
With me, I couldn’t talk to anybody. Unless people knew about Kirstie, I didn’t tell anybody. I could stand next to somebody in the street and they wouldn’t have known what was happening to me.
Don’t judge anybody who deals with it in a different way to you because we all deal with things in a totally different way.
And accept the way they deal with it because it’s how they’re made. I can’t expect [my husband] to deal with it the same was as I do because we are totally different people. The end result is the same hopefully and we are both striving for the same thing, and we’re both doing it for the same reason.
But they say things make you a better person. I’m still waiting to find that better person myself. It will come. And another thing is, as a donor family, don’t judge other members of your family. And, as a mother, and I don’t mean this horribly to fathers and siblings, but as a mother you deal with it in a totally different way, totally different way. You change, and for a while you become a person that you don’t like. I became a person that I didn’t like, but sometimes it is self preservation.
I became a very selfish person. So, as a family member, of a donor family, don’t judge, don’t judge what other members are doing or saying. As a family, support each other. Because what you’ve always got to remember is ultimately your loved one has done a wonderful thing and it’s not you that’s done it. It is the person whose organs have been donated. They have done the wonderful thing.
Eunice was supported by some very good friends and her daughters manager from work, who became a...
I think we were lucky in the point of fact that we had some very good friends with us at the hospital who came to [place name]. And then for the five days that Kirstie was in between the two hospitals, there was certain people that visited every day, that spent the time with us, and have been our support.
We made friends, there was Kirstie’s General Manager at work. I’d met him a couple of times. He came to the hospital every day. Now he’s one of our closest friends. We’ve said that if we didn’t get anything else out of Kirstie dying we got a close knit friendship of people who we meet up twice a year, we meet up or perhaps three times a year in actual fact.
We meet up on Kirstie’s birthday every year, we have a meal. We meet up on the anniversary of her, or the first Sunday after her anniversary of dying, and also her funeral was 28th December. And Kirstie worked for a large restaurant chain and, every year on the 28th December, that restaurant chain pay for us to have a gathering of Kirstie’s friends that she worked with, which is lovely.
And those people turn up every year. And there’s about twenty one of us I think go out to dinner and we all have Kirstie in common, which is lovely. So because we have that group of friends I suppose we haven’t looked elsewhere for support. We’ve supported each other.
Eunice feels that people who are willing to accept an organ should be willing to donate too. She...
We’ve got to look at it from the flip side. If, God forbid, they was in a position that either they or a very close loved one needed an organ, they would be wishing that somebody out there had donated that organ.
So, in return, I think we have to be prepared to donate an organ ourselves. Because, again as I’ve said, we can’t take them. They’re no good to us when we go. Why not let somebody else get the use out of them. And because, as a family for us it was a major, major tragedy. But out of our tragedy comes somebody else’s happiness. And the ability for their family to start afresh and go on and lead a long and happy life. And to me that is one of the ultimate things in it all.