The widow of a man who helped save three lives after donating his organs has told how honouring his selfless wish was the last thing she could do for her husband.
Lisa Keillor said there was no doubt in anyone's mind that her husband Ian wanted to gift his organs following his death last year. She has shared her heartbreaking story with University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, who cared for Ian, in his honour and to raise awareness for Organ Donation week, which is taking place from Monday 18 September until Sunday 24 September.
Despite being fit and healthy, the pair, who were together for 20 years and married for 10 years, had previously discussed organ donation 'in a jokey way'.
Lisa, who works as an Emergency Medicine Registrar in Nottingham, said Ian fell unwell with flu-like symptoms days before his 48th birthday and was recovering at the couple's home in Allestree the day after his birthday when he had a sudden cardiac arrest.
"He said he felt better than he had in days so I went out and bought a few things I knew he'd like for dinner. I went into the kitchen to make him dinner and I heard him make a snoring sound from the kitchen. I recognised it straight away as the noise someone makes when they lose their airway.
"I ran into him and found that he was not breathing and had no pulse. I started CPR and called the ambulance. He was in a funny position on the sofa so the only thing I could do was chest compressions."
The ambulance crew and prehospital doctor fortunately arrived quickly, continuing CPR and used the defibrillator to shock his heart back into a semi-normal rhythm. He required two further shocks due to unusual heart rhythms on the way to hospital. An ECG showed changes consistent with a heart attack but the clot in one of his coronary vessels could not be removed.
Lisa said: "At that point he wasn’t making progress as we hoped. The medications to keep him sedated were switched off and I kept asking Ian to open his eyes and squeeze my hand. He was trying but he couldn’t and I was preparing myself for the worst. I spoke to Ian's brother David that night and said that we needed to have a discussion about what's important to Ian. We all agreed that he wouldn’t want to live if he couldn’t do all the things he would normally do."
The next day, a brain scan showed that Ian had brain damage due to a lack of oxygen and after a discussion with the consultant, who explained that Ian wouldn’t survive, the family were visited by the Organ Donation team to talk about the possibility of donating Ian's organs.
"As a doctor I encourage honest conversations about death, dying and that the reality of a full recovery from a cardiac arrest is very small. As part of that I've always been very upfront and realistic about the fact that death happens and you need to have conversations with loved ones before it happens so that you know what is important. Myself and Ian had mostly jokey conversations about what we'd accept, what would be important if we were seriously ill and how neither of us would want to be dependant on the other. Ian was very selfless and we were very much on the same page."
The Intensive Care team at Royal Derby Hospital supported the family and Lisa said they went above and beyond to provide gestures that meant a great deal to them personally, including allowing Lisa to sleep by Ian's side one final time and providing her with a quartz crystal that Ian had held, to keep a connection with him when she needed to leave the hospital.
Lisa said: "They made me up a bed so I could sleep next to him and that was amazing. I just wanted to be close to him for as long as I could."
During his final hours the team made Ian comfortable, washed him with his own shower gel and put his own pillows under his head.
Lisa said: "Just before he died, he opened his eyes for the last time, then he closed them and his heart stopped."
During the organ retrieval process the surgeons played a playlist of Ian's music carefully put together by Lisa and Ian’s family and friends.
Ian's selfless final gesture means he was able to donate his liver and both kidneys. His liver enabled a man in his sixties to have a life-saving liver transplant after being on the transplant waiting list. One kidney was used for a kidney transplant for a man in his thirties after being on the transplant list for over a year, and his other kidney was donated to a man in his fifties who had spent over five years on the transplant waiting list.
Lisa said: "It was a massive thing and there's a lot of mixed emotions but I do feel comfort from it. Everything happened so quickly. We'd been camping in France just the month before and we had the best holiday. He'd been swimming against rapids in the south of France and was absolutely well. It was just so unexpected to lose him like that."
Lisa described her husband, who had recently completed a Sociology degree and was setting up a business with a friend making Bao buns, as a 'big, bearded Geordie with a huge laugh who would do anything for anyone.'
She said: "He was incredibly selfless. We actually discovered after he died that he had added himself to the Organ donation register not once but twice, just to make his intentions clear.
"The thing about Ian was he never really appreciated the impact that he had on other people. He was so kind and always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. Even when he wasn’t speaking and he was lying in that bed in ITU he was having an impact on everyone around him."
Now Lisa is urging others to consider becoming an organ donor and to have that important conversation with their loved ones about their wishes if the worst were to happen.
She said: "It is always good to have hope but sometimes the worst does happen and having that conversation with your family and friends does make things easier for those you leave behind. Often there can be conflict and friction in families whilst making decisions about dying but there wasn’t any of that with us because we all knew what Ian wanted and that really made things less difficult at a time when that’s really important.
"It's not a perfect ending because for those people to live your loved one has to die and it takes time to come to terms with that, but I have no doubt that we did the right thing and it is what Ian would have wanted.
"None of us regret that those parts of Ian were able to help other people. He would have said ‘They’re no use to me so take them and help someone else with them’ I am absolutely certain it was the right decision."
To find out more about Organ Donation, visit: Home - NHS Organ Donation