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Dan’s organ donation story: “Dan’s donation was a silver thread to grab hold of at a time when everything was falling down around me.”

Dan, white with brown hair caught by the wind, smiling and looking at the camera with a blue coat, in the background is a historic building
21 September 2021

15-year-old Dan was a “once-met-never-forgotten boy” whose “story will go on into the future”, after he donated his organs following his death in 2018.Dan in a red football shirt with his mum in a blue football shirt. its a selfie, both smiling with brown hair

Dan is described by his mum Debbie as: “Taller than average, with a daft laugh, great sense of humour, tons of energy and a maturity that belied his years. He also had a great sense of adventure and independence. The world was his to explore, and he loved it.”

15-year-old Dan was originally from Glossop but had recently moved to Sheffield. He died at Sheffield Children’s Hospital after being knocked down in a road traffic accident. Dan had brain damage that he wasn’t able to recover from. His mum Debbie said: “It takes time for doctors to give up hope of survival, but as soon as they confirmed that there was nothing more they could do, I knew that I needed to talk about organ donation. I wanted Dan to have the chance to do one last amazing thing. And I knew he’d have been 100% behind that decision.”

Debbie talks very positively about Dan and his donation, she said: “Every day the person who received Dan’s organ takes a breath in, it’s amazing. For every day they’re around, that’s a day their friends and family get to spend with them. Dan has made a life better that would have been more difficult without his donation. His donation has had ripple effects on family and friends that will be a legacy.”

Debbie and Dan had previously talked about donating his organs: “One of our friends died waiting for a kidney transplant and another one of our family friends donated his kidney to his son, and we were closely involved with supporting the family at that time. So, Dan and I had talked about organ donation openly. When I had the conversation with Dan about organ donation he said, “it’s just obvious. If I’m dead I’m not going to need it, someone else can use it!”

“So, when I was faced with the decision I felt privileged I didn’t need to think about it. To know I was simply making his last wish a reality is an honour, and I knew I was doing the right thing by his wishes.

“Dan’s donation was a silver thread to grab hold of at a time when everything was falling down around me.”

After the road traffic accident Dan was looked after by a range of staff across Sheffield Children’s Hospital, from the Embrace transport team to the intensive care unit and the bereavement team. Debbie said: “Everyone did a phenomenal job. Everyone was so gentle, the way we were cared for felt weightless, everything was so smooth, lovely and kind.

“When we were in the intensive care unit, the care we received was unobtrusive, but they were absolutely there if I needed a pair of arms, a cup of tea or a hug. They were looking after you because they know you’re not really ‘there’ and going through shock and disbelief, and they knew what I needed and when. In a time when everything was so jarring and unnatural, calmness is just what you need and they made it seem all okay and alright.”

Debbie and Dan’s father were talked through donating Dan’s organs by the Specialist Nurse for Organ Donation: “Dan’s dad and I discussed the specifics with a lovely Nurse from the Organ Donation team, who explained all about our choices and what would happen. The nurse was incredibly patient, knowing that there is a lot to take in at a traumatic time. But for me, this was an exciting prospect; in the face of a horrific tragedy, something incredibly positive could occur. This would be Dan’s legacy.Dan in red top and black leggings with medal round his neck from a sporting competition

“It was wonderful to find out, just a few weeks later, that Dan’s kind, big, beautiful heart had gone to a young child under the age of 10.

“As well as helping that child, and bringing hope to their family, Dan was also able to donate his liver, both kidneys and his pancreas. Four families in all (one recipient had both a kidney and the pancreas) had been on the receipt of Dan’s legacy. I will always grieve Dan’s death, but equally always delight that I could enact his final wish and that he made a difference to others’ lives, even after his was over.”

Paul Neale, 53, from Rotherham, was aged 50 when he received Dan’s kidney. He connected with Debbie through the NHS Blood and Transplant process for donor families and transplant recipients to make contact, with support for both sides, and since then they consider each other extended family. Paul said: “In 2015 I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. In 2018 I was due to start dialysis, we’d received the training and I had 7 per cent kidney function, I was bedridden. The day before dialysis I got a call that there was a kidney available, and I could have a transplant.

“It has totally changed my life. I’m much healthier now. I am just so grateful. I think the world of Dan, he’s our other son now.”

Paul’s wife Sharon said: “These horrible circumstances have made our family extended now. Not many people would think to talk about dying with their children, as no one thinks it will happen to them, it is amazing Debbie did. We are so grateful to Debbie and Dan for his donation, and keeping in touch with Debbie gives us chance to say thank you again.”

This Organ Donation Week (20th to 26th September) NHS Blood and Transplant and Sheffield Children’s are calling on people to talk to their families about organ donation and leave them certain about their decision.

Debbie encourages everyone to have the conversation with their family, especially with their children: “Having had a conversation with Dan made things so much better when I needed to make the decision. Parents should have the light-hearted conversation with their children. It won’t matter if it doesn’t matter, but if it does matter it’s such a relief to know you’ve already got that information.”Dan, blue jacket, looking more seriously at the camera, in the background are trees without leaves, a building and parked cars

Clare Croxall, specialist nurse for organ donation, said: “As a team of specialist nurses in organ donation we know that no one expects to ever need to have the conversation about organ donation. Debbie and Dan did an amazing thing by discussing it, so Debbie knew Dan’s wishes.

“I really encourage everyone to have the conversation with their loved ones, at any age, so they are left certain if they ever need to make the decision for them. The difference Dan’s organ donation has made on families has been incredible, we will never be able to thank Dan and his family enough.”

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