All her life Pauline Thorpe was against organ donation, but something changed her mind just two weeks before she died suddenly.
The grandmother-of-five passed away just before her 70th birthday and her remarkable change of heart ended up saving four lives.
“My mum didn’t like talking about death, it scared her,” daughter Lisa Turner says. “Me, my sister, brother and dad have always been on the organ donor register but she used to say, ‘I don’t want anyone taking my bits from me!’
“But when she had to renew her driving licence she ticked the box agreeing to be a donor. I just remember her getting the donor card through and she was really proud of herself. She said, ‘Look what I’ve got!’.
“You’d have thought it was a gold credit card or something. We don’t know what changed her mind.”
Mum-of-three Lisa, 46, of Basingstoke, Hants, is sharing her mum’s story as part of an NHS campaign, Leave Them Certain, to help spark conversations about organ donation.
Although 80% of people are willing to donate their organs, only 39% say they have spoken about their decision, meaning their wishes may not be fulfilled, according to an NHS survey.
Following a change in the law last year, brought about by the Mirror’s Change the Law for Life campaign, all adults are seen as willing to donate their organs unless they opt out or are in one of the excluded groups, but families must also give confirmation.
Max and Keira’s Law was named after Mirror campaigner Max Johnson, 13, and his donor Keira Ball, who was nine when she died in a tragic car accident near her home in Barnstaple, Devon.
The law came into force last May, and is expected to save hundreds of lives every year.
Nine in 10 people said they would support organ donation if they knew what their loved one wanted, but this figure falls to 51% when a decision is not known.
Pauline’s death was sudden: she had a catastrophic bleed on the brain on December 17, 2017. But Lisa says knowing that her mum was a donor made their decision so much easier.
She donated her lungs, kidneys and liver, saving four people.
“That conversation wasn’t hard for us, we knew that’s what she wanted,” Lisa says. “It was the worst Christmas of our lives but our mum gave four other people the best present of all – she gave them back their lives. It brings so much comfort.”
Other families have faced a more difficult decision.
When Shivum Kakkad’s father, 63-year-old Bharat, died suddenly from a cardiac arrest in May 2019 the family didn’t know whether or not he wanted to be a donor.
Their story features in the new NHS advert and campaign, with family footage and memories, but with an actor playing Shivum.
Doctors spent 10 days trying to save Bharat but there was nothing to be done.
Shivum says he and his brother Shyamal, 34, raised organ donation with doctors. We’d been in hospital for 10 days, they tried to get him to come around. There are notices on the wall and as it became obvious he wasn’t going to make it my brother and I had a chat.
“When they said there was no other avenue to go down, we actually mentioned it to them.”
Shivum, 32, whose family are Hindu, says he knows his dad would have been happy with the decision but wishes they had had the talk.
“He was a very charitable guy, he used to support the community and was all about sharing problems and solutions. We just felt it was with his character. I wish we’d spoken about it to know for certain and I’d urge others to take the opportunity while they still can.”
Shivum, of Pinner, North London, hopes his dad’s story will encourage more families from Asian and other ethnic backgrounds to talk about it.
“There are lots of reasons and myths why people from these backgrounds don’t do it.
“For me it’s misconceptions. We do believe in things like reincarnation so people might fear you won’t reincarnate without that organ or, if I give an organ to someone who commits a crime, will I have a bad destiny for that? It’s about squashing those things and opening up.
“For Asian communities it’s also an awkward conversation – they often don’t like taking about things about marriage, sex, love and death.
“It’s about encouraging them to make this decision and leaving the family with your own beliefs.”
Bharat donated a kidney to a woman in her 50s and a kidney to a man in his 60s, saving two lives.
Shivum adds: “You don’t want your loved ones trying to come up with a theory about what you might have wanted. So if you have this chat then you’re going to leave them certain.”