Jackie - Interview 21

Age at interview: 71
Brief Outline: Jackie's son, Lyall, sadly died after a road traffic accident in 1996, aged 16. Lyall gave the gift of life to six people and sight to two. Jackie has been keen to raise awareness of organ donation and met two of Lyall's recipients.
Background: Jackie is a retired community midwife. She is widowed. Ethnic background / nationality' White British.

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Jackie’s son, Lyall, sadly died after a road traffic accident in 1996, aged 16. When a policeman called round completely out of the blue, he told her that Lyall had had head injuries. At the hospital, she was told that he was in intensive care. An MRI scan had showed he’d had extensive brain damage, which he would not survive. Brain stem tests the following morning confirmed that Lyall was no longer alive. 

 Jackie knew that Lyall was in favour of organ donation because, at the age of eight, he had asked her about her donor card and what it meant. She consented to organ donation. 

Back at home, Jackie was in a state of shock and disbelief. The following morning, however, she made herself do the weekly shopping and face people she came across at the supermarket. She felt that the longer she left or postponed it, the harder it would be.

 The following day, Jackie wanted to see Lyall, which she did. He looked asleep. Jackie praised the healthcare he’d received and said he’d been treated with respect and dignity.

 Jackie and her husband organised a humanist funeral and she was amazed at the turnout, including three head teachers from Lyall’s school. 

 There was a long wait until the inquest, which Jackie understandably found very difficult. Like many people, she had no idea what it would involve. On the day of the inquest, she asked her solicitor to pass on a message to the driver of the car in the accident. She said, ‘I explained to the solicitor, please tell the driver that we have no hard feelings, because evidently he [Lyall] just walked straight out in front of the car. The driver didn’t have a chance to stop. And the thought that he might be again suffering dreadfully and I said to them, “Look, one good thing is that he’s been a multiple organ donor – the gift of life for six and sight for two is not a bad epitaph for a sixteen year old.”      

About a week after Lyall’s death, Jackie received a letter from one of the recipient’s mothers. Jackie replied to her and mentioned that she would like to meet her daughter, the recipient, if she felt willing to do so. She and the recipient spoke on the phone several times and, six months later, met up. They keep in touch regularly.

Jackie also heard from and met the recipient of Lyall’s liver, who was doing very well since the transplant. She heard, too, from the recipient of one of Lyle’s kidneys who, because of the transplant, was now well enough to enjoy quality time with his grandchildren.

Jackie received a lot support from her colleagues, as well as letters from Lyall’s friends and their parents. Her husband, Lyall’s dad, found it difficult to talk about or come to terms with his feelings and became depressed. Jackie wished he’d been able to talk to other men who had been through something similar. 

About six months after  Lyall’s death, Jackie appeared on several TV programmes where the subject of organ donation was highlighted. She appeared with one of   Lyall’s recipients. She later met another of his recipient’s on TV too.

Around 1996, Jackie was approached by a local journalist to take part in an article about organ donation, along with other participants. She said 1000 people registered for organ donation following this publicity. Jackie is very keen to raise awareness of organ donation and is in favour of presumed consent (opt-out).   


When Jackie and her husband got to the hospital, they were told that their son, Lyall, would not...


It was ten past eight on a Thursday evening and a knock at the door, two policemen. “Are you the parents of Lyall?” And your heart sort of stops. And they said he’d been involved in an accident and had head injuries, and he was at the local hospital.

And I thought, oh dear, he’s either not too bad, or really poorly because if it, otherwise he would have probably gone to the nearest neuro surgical unit at [place name].

So they offered to drive us up there, but I said no. So I drove my husband up and we went up there. We went to Accident and Emergency [A&E] and they said that he was up in ITU [Intensive Therapy Unit]. He’d had an MRI scan and that the brain damage was incompatible with life.

So they took us up to ITU. We met the doctor up there and he reiterated what they’d said down in A&E. And said that, in the morning, they would do the brain tests to confirm that he was brain dead.


Lyall wanted to know what a donor card was when he was 8, and carried one as an adult. Jackie...


So they took us up to ITU. We met the doctor up there and he reiterated what they’d said down in A&E. And said that, in the morning, they would do the brain tests to confirm that he was brain dead.

I turned to my husband because, when he was about eight, Lyall had gone through my purse and got these cards, “What’s this for? What’s that for?” And I had my organ donor card in there.

And I explained to him about it and said, “You know, if anything happens to me, you’ll have to organise it because your Dad will be useless.” And, because I was in the medical profession, we watched a lot of medical programmes together so he had some idea.

And so I said to, turned to my husband and said, “Well look, Lyall had got a donor card. Have you any objection?” He said, “No.” So I turned round and I said to them, “Well, if the worst comes to the worst, we are happy for you to retrieve his organs.” Because I think there must be nothing worse than having to turn round to a distressed family and ask them. I mean, being a midwife, I’ve quite often had difficult things to tell people but I can think really of nothing worse than that.


Jackie’s husband bottled up his feelings and became depressed. She wishes he could have talked to...


The trouble is that men, and I know, one shouldn’t be too categorical but men are supposed to be the strong ones. So they don’t let their emotions show, but they bottle it up. And they bottle it up and all he could say was, “I couldn’t teach him to cross the road.” And that would make my heartbreak absolutely, you know, yes. No, he was never the same. Never the same.

[Nurse’s name] mentioned counselling, I mean that was a dirty word. “We need to go to the doctor, you know, you’re obviously depressed.” But it’s very difficult. If only you can get the men to talk. If you can get man to man even, you know, find somebody else who’s been through a similar thing so that they can at least talk to each other. Because, as I say, they feel they’ve got to be the strong one and they’re not always. It is quite often the woman that has to carry on, you know, plan the meals, do the shopping, and that sort of thing.


Jackie keeps in touch with three of her son’s recipients. She has met two of them. Her story has...


About a week or so after he [son] died, I had a letter from the mother of one of the recipients, saying how grateful she was. And so I wrote back to her and said I’d love to meet her daughter, but only if her daughter was happy enough to do it, because I could realise what a terrible strain that might be.

And I suppose about, we spoke several times on the phone and then about six months later I drove to [place name] to meet her. Absolutely delightful young lady, absolutely delightful. She was then busy doing her BA in social sciences. She had the most delightful boyfriend and one of the magazines, I can’t remember now which one, did a little article on her. And then when she qualified, I think it was the Daily Telegraph did a big spread on her as well, which was lovely, yes.

And also the lady that had his liver, it was her second liver transplant. She’d never been very well from the first one, and she has been doing again absolutely brilliantly. And I’ve only met her the once because she lives in [place name] and I was living in [place name] at the time and it’s a bit of a trek up. And she’s doing brilliantly as well.

And I’ve had a letter from a gentleman who had one of his kidneys, and he’s overjoyed because he’s got two grandchildren now. He’s now fit enough to play football with. I haven’t heard from him for several years, but obviously all was going well there.

You mentioned you also went on television. Was that a bit later?

Yes, I suppose a couple of months, six months later, something like that, yes. We had a call from ‘Richard and Judy’ [TV programme hosts], and then [recipients’ name] and I went up. And there’d been some stupid American article about the recipient taking on the characteristics of the donor. Which of course he had to bring up and [Recipient 1] shot him down. She was not a sporty sort. She likes walking and that sort of thing, but not team games and that sort of thing.

So you were both on?

 We were both on together yes. And then on the ‘This Morning’ programme and I met [Recipient 2], who had had Lyall’s liver. And then ‘Kilroy’ [TV programme].


Your relative would have wanted you to be happy. With time, it is easier to remember the good...


Everybody reacts differently. It doesn’t matter to cry, but somehow I think you owe it to the person not to completely disintegrate. They would have hated to have seen you in that state. You have to look back on all the good times, the fantastic times that you had together.

My personal view is you don’t make a shrine, you know like some people do with the bedrooms and that sort of thing. I’ve got my treasure box over there with all his little bit’s and pieces in. But I haven’t got a, you know what I mean, because you don’t want to push it in people’s faces when they come, because some people, we have ‘sorry’ in this country if you run into somebody with a trolley in Tesco’s. You say sorry to somebody if they’ve lost a child.

Some people find it very difficult. They will find, people will ignore them, and it’s not because they don’t care, they don’t know what to say. They don’t want to upset you, to make you cry, they don’t want to cry. And their heart is going out to you, but they don’t know what to say. They’re not ignoring you, they’re not, they’re caring but they just feel so inadequate.

Yes. Is there anything, a message or advice you would give to someone in that situation, because a lot of people will say, “I just don’t know what to say.”

A hand on the shoulder and, “I’m sorry what’s happened,” is all you need to do. You needn’t say anymore. Just a hug, or a hand on the shoulder, that’s all you need to say. Because the recipient will feel your love. It’s hard, but once it’s done and the longer you postpone it, the harder it’s going to be. And letters mean a great deal. If you can’t say anything, write a little note. How much or what fun you had, or anything nice about the person. It’s a great comfort, a great comfort because you find out things about your loved one that you didn’t know about.


Certain days of the year are very difficult. Jackie advises doing only what feels right for you...


Christmas is difficult, birthdays are difficult. The day of the death is difficult, but you just have to realise they are going to be pretty gloomy days. And, if you don’t feel like meeting people, then organise yourself so that you don’t have to meet people. If you want to be alone in your grief, on the other hand sometimes people find it better to go out and be with somebody.

Be true to yourself, don’t do what other people say you should. What you feel you want to do. People can’t live your life for you and if you want to shut yourself away for the day, then shut yourself off. If you want to go out and try and forget about it, do what you feel is right for you.

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