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Nathan’s organ donation story: Parents make decision to help others after sudden loss of their son

Nathan and his dog
16 October 2020

15-year-old Nathan was known for his kindness and generosity. Incredibly he has continued helping others even after his sudden death. Through organ donation, Nathan has changed the lives of six other people through this ultimate act of generosity.Nathan

Nathan Howson from Rotherham died suddenly this summer following a bleed on his brain. He had been a healthy teenager but became ill quickly with a headache before losing consciousness. He was rushed to Sheffield Children’s Hospital, but despite emergency surgery and other medical treatment, the damage to Nathan’s brain was extensive, and he passed away shortly after falling ill.

Nathan was a kind and thoughtful teenager who is described by friends as having a heart of gold. He enjoyed gaming and spending time with his friends. He was known to help anyone with everything.

When it became clear he wasn’t going to survive his illness, his parents Donna and Neil faced a difficult decision on whether to donate Nathan’s organs, but they knew what they had to do.

Mum Donna said: “It was a hard decision but it’s one we felt was right. Our whole world had fallen apart when we knew we were losing Nathan. It was very sudden but we knew there was nothing more the hospital could do. Neil and I didn’t even need to speak, we knew what to do. We now know people out there are living a better quality of life because of Nathan and our strength in giving that permission. We are proud that Nathan has been able to help other people and we wanted to help anyone we could.

“Nathan would always help people no matter what, so it felt right to donate everything we could.”

Nathan’s sad death was caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which resulted in the bleed on his brain. An AVM is a tangle of blood vessels where arteries and veins connect in an abnormal way, resulting in these blood vessels being weaker than normal. Sometimes these bloods vessels bleed, and when they do, they can cause severe damage. AVMs located inside the brain are not common, they affect well under 1% of the population. Most of the time when someone has an AVM, they will not have any signs or symptoms until it bleeds, which is what happened with Nathan.

Nathan and his family were cared for at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, from the Emergency Department to the Intensive Care Unit.

Donna said: “The staff at Sheffield Children’s have been amazing. Even since we lost Nathan and now we are home, we are still in contact with staff who are checking in if we need anything. Nothing was too much trouble, no question ever silly. The organ donation team were also very kind and caring in what was a very difficult situation.

“Everything was done with empathy and compassion. We could see the empathy in their faces even though they were wearing masks. They were like angels dressed in blue who took him away.

“We want to encourage other people to talk about it and if they are in a similar difficult position, consider donating. We wouldn’t do anything differently and people are living a better life because of him.”

Clare Croxall, specialist organ donation nurse, said: “As a team of specialist nurses in organ donation we knew that no one ever really wants to be offered the option of organ donation for their loved one as it sadly means there is no hope anymore and they are going to lose that special person. When families do find themselves in this position and they agree to donation we are always in awe of their selflessness in such a sad and terrible time for them.

“Nathan’s family personified this giving and generous nature by agreeing to organ donation despite their shock and grief. They were patient whilst we organised the process, which is a complex one, and they remained firm in their belief that Nathan should help people in his passing. Working closely with the staff in intensive care and in the theatre department we were able to organise Nathan’s donation whilst his family spent precious time with him.

“Nathan helped six people through his donation and as a team of specialist nurses in organ donation and on behalf of the recipients, we will never be able to thank Nathan and his family enough.”

Nathan (left) his Dad Neil, brother Adam and mum Donna

As well as receiving support from Sheffield Children’s, Nathan’s family were able to say a further goodbye and spend time with Nathan at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospital in North Anston, South Yorkshire.

Susan Wood, Director of Care at Bluebell Wood, said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Nathan’s family, loved ones and friends at this unimaginably difficult time.

“It’s clear that Nathan was a wonderful young man who touched many lives, and will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.

“Losing a child is undoubtedly the most difficult thing anyone will ever have to face, so it was a privilege to be able to give Nathan’s family those last precious moments together after he passed away.

“At Bluebell Wood we do everything we can to make those heartbreaking final moments as comfortable as possible for the families in our care, while giving them the opportunity to make memories that they will always treasure.

“Working closely with Sheffield Children’s Hospital is a very important part of this to make sure as many families as possible have access to all the support that is available when they need it the most.”

Donna, Neil and their son Adam along with friends are now raising money to say thank you to both Sheffield Children’s (through The Children’s Hospital Charity) and Bluebell Wood.

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