Parishioners across the Diocese of Connor had the opportunity to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register in church on Advent Sunday.
In a campaign to raise awareness of the need for organ donors, and to encourage more people to sign up to the register, the diocese designated November 30 Organ Donor Sunday.
Leaflets providing information on organ donation and registration forms were send to all Connor’s 77 parishes.
Between April 1 2007 and March 31 this year, 3,235 organ transplants were carried out in the UK, thanks to 1,665 donors. Yet only 26 per cent of people have registered as organ donors.
The Ven Dr Stephen McBride, Archdeacon of Connor, who initiated the campaign, said: “The Intensive Care Unit is not the time to make decisions on organ donation. A hospital bed is not the place to theologise when someone is going through numerous emotions as they deal with the death of a loved one.
“This is a conversation I would encourage families to have around the table at the end of a meal or over a cup of coffee. By distributing the organ donor leaflets, I hope many people will take the time to think about how they can help their neighbour even after death.”
Eleanor Donaghy, regional transplant co-ordinator for Northern Ireland, backed Connor’s campaign. She said: “There will always be a shortage of organ donors. As technology advances and more people are considered suitable for transplant the demand continues to rise. Again, because of technological advances, less people are dying from serious inter-cerebral events and so there are fewer donors.”
She said organ donation can offer a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel for a family coping with the death of a loved one. “It is something that families can cling to. They think of the deceased as someone who has helped others throughout their life and this is a way of taking away the futility of their death,” Eleanor said.
Avril Waller, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Woodburn, and her husband Clive lost their 17-year-old daughter Lindsey in a quad bike accident in 2003. Lindsey had signed her organ donor card, and her organs helped three other people, including a four-year-old girl, to live.
On Organ Donor Sunday Avril spoke in her church about her personal experience and how she now feels Lindsey is living on in others. Earlier in the day Avril also lent her support to the Connor campaign by highlighting it in an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence.
Beautiful flowers were commissioned in Lindsey’s memory especially for the service.
Mr Mark Taylor, consultant surgeon at the Mater Hospital Belfast, also spoke during the Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Woodburn. Mark spent a year at the National Transplant Hospital in Scotland and is often required to retrieve organs for transplant. He spoke of the miracle of witnessing transplanted organs come to life and begin working in a matter of minutes.
More than 300 people attended morning service, and afterwards they had the opportunity to ask the speakers questions over a soup and cheese lunch. Many commented that it had been very moving to hear both Avril and Mark speak from different perspectives on organ donation.
The rector of Holy Trinity, the Rev Alan McCann, spoke of the courage of such families that in the midst of great loss they turned their thoughts to helping others.
Angie Burton, Marketing and Campaigns Manager for NHS Blood and Transplant’s Organ Donation and Transplantation Directorat, welcomed Connor’s Organ Donor Sunday initiative.
“Transplants are one of the most miraculous achievements of modern medicine but they depend entirely on the generosity of donors and their families who are willing to make this life-saving or life-enhancing gift to others,” she said. “By encouraging people to think about whether they want to be an organ donor and record their wishes on the NHS Organ Donor Register this campaign gives great hope to the 8,000 people currently in desperate need of a transplant.”
To sign up to the organ donor register online follow the NHS Organ Donor Register link on this website.