Organ donor families remember loved ones at sculpture unveiling

Families of patients treated at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust were among more than 200 people attending the unveiling of a special sculpture to raise awareness of the difference organ donation can make.

The bespoke sculpture called ‘Beyond Ithaka’ was created by Staffordshire artist Robin Wight was revealed during a ceremony at Trentham Gardens, near Stone and provides a reflection point for families who have lost loved ones.

The unveiling of the sculpture was featured in tonight’s episode of ‘The One Show’ with dozens of donor family members travelling from across the country to attend.

Vonda Smith, of Werrington, attended in memory of her twin brother Steve Selwood, who passed away at Royal Stoke University Hospital after suffering a stroke.

Having made the advance decision to become an organ donor, Steve, 55, of Kidsgrove, became the first person in the country to donate his pancreas to medical research.

Vonda, 56, said: “Steve would be proud of what he has done. He was a very compassionate man and it brings us comfort to think that he has made a difference.

“We received a letter regarding the man who received Steve’s kidney – because of this transplant, he has a whole new life. And it doesn’t just affect one person, it’s all the family and friends it will benefit, you’ve got to think about the ripple effect.

“Thankfully we’d had a conversation already about organ donation which means that actually it was quite an easy decision for us when it came to it.

“I would just encourage people to talk to each other. It only needs to be a short conversation, asking how someone feels about donation. Steve had that conversation with me and told me he was on the donor register.

“It was fantastic to see the organ donation nurses at the event and to understand their role.”

Myles Irwin, of Porthill also attended with his 12-year-old son Seth. Together, they spoke about their wife and mother Nicki Irwin, who was a nurse at Royal Stoke. Myles, 46, said: “Nicki died very quickly, within hours, but there’s people out there waiting that are going through so much pain. Please think about it and donate your organs, because it means a lot. It gives people hope, a massive amount of hope. It’s never a good time to lose anybody, but Nicki made a massive difference.

“We received a letter about families whose children, brothers and sisters, wives and daughters had benefitted from Nicki’s organs, who can carry on living today from it.”

Seth courageously chose to read out a poem as part of the ceremony. Speaking with his dad, he said: “Organ donation makes a big difference because it’s helping other people with their lives and giving them the opportunity. It keeps people living.”

Derrick and Rose Burgess travelled from Northamptonshire to celebrate the memory of their son Philip James Long, who was just 36 when he passed away.

Derrick said: “We were telephoned by Royal Stoke to say we needed to come down to the hospital straight away. It was 4am and Philip was on life support. He was on it for two days, then they had to turn it off. Philip will always be missed and he’ll always be in our hearts. We’re very proud to think that he still lives on in other people. He had a heart of gold and hopefully those people who received his organs will have a little bit of him inside them. There are people out there alive today that wouldn’t have been without the donation. It doesn’t take the pain away to know this, but it does help.

“The staff at Royal Stoke were amazing, brilliant from start to finish, they showed so much respect. They spoke to Philip all the while they were treating him, even though they knew he couldn’t hear them. How they do that every day I don’t know.”

Rose said: “The sculpture is absolutely beautiful. It’s got so much meaning. It’s the fact that families who have donated can come here and reflect and have a little bit of peace.”

Specialist nurses from NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) - based at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) - helped to organise the event and were on hand throughout the day to support families.

Kirsty Lazenby, Specialist Nurse Organ Donation & Transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Because of Covid a lot of families have not had the opportunity to be together when loved ones died, so this has really given them their first chance to grieve properly together.

“Every person who became a donor died in sudden and or traumatic events, so it was very difficult for people, but every single one of our donor families is amazing.

“The event was extremely emotional for family members and for us. We think this sculpture will provide a beautiful and dignified place for people to remember loved ones who have donated or received an organ. We also want to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation and we think this will be a great way of getting the conversation started.

“Since April 2021 more than 3,000 people nationally have received a transplant. This really highlights the need for people to sign up.

“There’s also a stark and worrying contrast between different ethnicities. For example, only 11.5% of eligible donors are from BAME communities and the consent rate for BAME donors is 36% compared with a consent rate of 75% for white eligible donors.”

In May 2020 the law in England was changed to an ‘opt-out’ system, where a person is required to specifically state if they do not wish to donate their organs.

Kirsty continued: “It’s our job to facilitate organ donation and in order to do that we educate and encourage people to make their wishes known. Before the law changed, lots of families were struggling to make the decision because they didn’t know what their loved ones wanted, but thanks to the ‘opt out’ change, we can now confidently assume that people who have passed away supported the process, unless they informed us otherwise. This has made things much easier and more straightforward for families and for clinicians.”

“A hospital isn’t always the most appropriate place to have something like this as being there can bring back very painful memories for people, so we were absolutely thrilled when the team at Trentham agreed to work with us.”

The sculpture will be a permanent fixture at Trentham.

Robin Wight, who is also known for creating the ‘fairy sculptures’ at Trentham, is the artist and designer behind the project.

Robin said: “When I was asked if I would consider a sculpture commission for the NHS, I was doubly honoured and delighted. Being asked in the first place is a great compliment, plus we all owe the NHS a debt of gratitude and our full support. I was slightly nervous about the project, but only because I want it to have the desired impact to raise awareness of such a worthy cause.”

Alastair Budd, Director of Trentham, comments: “Trentham holds special memories for many and its beautiful and peaceful grounds make it an ideal place for reflection and to remember loved ones. Robin’s work is truly spectacular and we are so proud to have come together with NHS Royal Stoke Hospital to create a meaningful memorial for the loved ones of organ donors, as well as creating an important talking point for all our visitors.”

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