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Please help us to save lives – sign the Organ Donor Register

Kate Clarkson, one of the Trust's health visitors is calling on colleagues and the public to sign up to the Organ Donor Register as part of National Transplant Week (Monday July 9-15).

The Trust has backed her call and has today launched a staff campaign to encourage as many of their 800 employees as possible to sign up.

In March 2012, 58-year-old Kate became the North East's first altruistic female living organ donor. She realises that becoming a living donor isn't for everyone, so she's appealing to people across the region to pledge organ donation after their death by signing the Organ Donor Register.

In October 2010, Kate, a humanist, was asked to speak at a commemoration service for transplant patients and their families. It was an experience that moved her to consider becoming a living donor.

Kate, from Hexham, said: "I've been a nurse for 40 years and I thought I was hardened to these sorts of things - but this service was the most heart-rending experience that I've ever had. Listening to those people who had lost relatives or who were waiting for organs to save their lives was unbelievably moving.

"I had been reading about becoming a living donor and I was so moved that day that I decided if I could help, I would. I just thought 'I've got a spare kidney that I don't even need and people are dying every single day waiting for one.' So if it was possible, I was going to do it."

After contacting transplant specialists, Kate underwent a string of screenings, tests and interviews spanning nearly a year to ensure her fitness for undergoing the procedure. Kate is keen to stress how careful and thorough the medical support and preparation had been to ensure both hers and the recipient's safety and well being. "Every step of the way I was asked if I was still sure about going ahead," she said.

"I only told family, close friends, and colleagues and no-one tried to stop me - most people just said 'good for you' and I think they knew that it was something I just had to do."

Kate's kidney was first matched with a recipient who unfortunately became too ill to undergo the transplant operation, as people can wait a very long time to get a match, all the while their health gets worse, but very soon a second match was found.

"It was incredible. Within three hours of the surgery, the kidney was in the recipient and working at full capacity. Twice since I've heard that the recipient is doing well and has made a donation to charity as a thank you.

"Becoming a living donor is not for everyone, but for me it just wasn't a major decision - it just seemed like the right thing to do.

"I wouldn't pressure anyone into it but if you are thinking about it, go ahead, and I honestly don't feel any different. The after effects were easily managed, no worse than a caesarean section, and my one kidney has almost doubled in size to do the extra work and is working perfectly well.

"I can't think of any justification at all for not donating your organs when you are dead - and it's so easy to do. All you need to do is text 'SAVE' to 84118. If we can save just one life through raising awareness through the Trust's campaign, then it absolutely is worth it."

Helen Dixon, Specialist Nurse Organ Donation, working for NHS Blood Transplant and based at the Trust, speaks to relatives on hospital wards and undertakes education programmes surrounding the benefits of organ donation.

She said that organ donation rates in the North East were among the best in the country, with only 22% of the North's population having signed up to the Organ Donation Register.

In 2011-2012, in the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust area, there were 11 cases of donor consent and nine of these proceeded to surgery - but this compares to just three cases in 2010-2011). From those nine cases, 22 people received organ transplants, ranging in age from 14 to 75. 

National statistics show that 96% of us would take an organ if we needed one, yet only 29% of us have taken action and signed the Organ Donation Register.

Helen continued: "The single most important problem that we have is that people generally do not discuss their wishes with their families. It's so important, not just to sign up to the Organ Donation Register, that people talk about the issue with their loved ones and make their feelings known - even if they are set against the idea."

The Trust is raising awareness of the issue throughout the whole of National Transplant Week. Employees and visitors will be given leaflets about organ donation at University Hospital North Durham and Darlington Memorial Hospital in a bid to encourage them to sign up to the Organ Donation Register. People wishing to sign up will be able to complete leaflets and post them at hospital sites, and even sign up on the spot via text or online.

Altruistic donations were only made legal three years ago and there are currently only around 100 cases nationally.

The NHS Organ Donor Register records the details of people who have registered their wishes to be an organ and/or tissue donor after their death. Age isn't a barrier and most medical conditions don't rule you out either. The register gives hope to more than 10,000 of all ages across the UK who need a transplant - but on average three a day die before they can have a transplant because they are simply not enough organs available.

It's simple to join the NHS Organ Donation Register using one of the following methods:
• go to www.organdonation.nhs.uk
• call 0300 123 23 23
• text 'save' to 84118
• post an organ donation leaflet.

'The treatment I have received from all the staff has been excellent and could you extend my thanks to them all. A very thankful and relieved patient'.

Patient, Dermatology Outpatients Department, University Hospital of North Durham