Cumbrian mum's joy at organ donation change

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Thirteen years after burying her first-born, a Cumbrian mum has spoken of her shock and joy at news the UK will adopt an opt-out organ donation system.

It is a day Shelley Wealleans admits she thought may never come, but which she believes will save hundreds of lives every year.

Prime Minister Theresa May made the announcement on Wednesday, as she outlined a series of policy changes at the Conservative party conference.

It means people are automatically signed up to be organ donors when they die, and they have to opt-out if they don't wish to.

This decision really will save lives

It aims to combat the deaths of hundreds of people every year, who die waiting for a transplant.

Shelley, 32, and her husband Lee, formerly from Botcherby in Carlisle but now living in Penrith, have all-too personal experience of that.

The couple bravely spoke out in 2012 about the issue of organ donation,

 Lewis West-Rawlins

Lewis West-Rawlins

and the desperate need for people to sign the register. At the time the couple were still grieving for the loss of their first son together, Mackenzie, who had died a year earlier.

The cheeky toddler had been desperately waiting for a life-saving heart transplant when he eventually lost his battle.

That loss was compounded by Shelley's own previous experiences, which had seen her lose her first child - Lewis West-Rawlins - in 2004.

Aged just 19 then, she was heartbroken and in shock and so, when asked by doctors to consider donating her tiny son's organs, she said no. It was a decision she regretted every day after.

The Wealleans family agreed to let little Mackenzie - who died just days before his second birthday - to become the face of The Cumberland News' Promise Life campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the issue.

Welcoming the Prime Minister's announcement, Shelley said: "It is absolutely amazing news... I'm not sure I can quite believe it.

"It is 13 years this week since Lewis died, and that makes it all the more poignant.

"This has been so long coming, we've been dealing with it for so long and fighting for it."

Reflecting on what the move will mean, the mum said: "It will open up organ donation to so many people. Families will not have to go through what I went through, what we went through.

"This decision really will save lives."

However, Shelley urged the Government to implement it quickly - and not take years to make that decision.

"If people don't want to be an organ donor, they don't have to," she said. "They have the option of opting out.

"However more people will be donors and the waiting list for a transplant should go down. People don't have to think about donation at a tough time, they can just save lives."

Her views are echoed by Paul Caine, 55, of Stainburn, Workington.

He has received two kidney transplants - one via the organ donor scheme and another from a relative.

Now a father of three grown up children, he said he would never have even gone on to have a family if it had not been for his first donor.

Paul, who used to run the Community Neighbours scheme in Carlisle, said he was "over the moon" at this week's announcement - and is now urging Mrs May to make this legislation a priority, stressing that every day counts for those waiting.

"Right now there is someone clinging to life, fighting infections and complications as organ function fails. This news can help them find the courage to fight on.

"A glimmer of hope is oxygen to the fire. I hope they make it and know for sure more will once this is through Parliament, he said.

 Paul Caine

Paul Caine

Mr Caine still remembers being on a hospital ward in Newcastle with one young woman in a similar position to him. He was allowed home for the weekend, but when he went back on the Monday she was gone. She had died waiting for a transplant.

"Our lives hung in the balance. She didn't make it. I just thought it was such a waste of that lass's life. What could she have gone on to achieve in the world?

"I've seen other faces like that over the years. I've seen families watching their loved ones die. These are very small margins. I'm one of the lucky ones," he said.

"I just feel a great weight has been lifted. I have tried to raise awareness of this from the beginning, mindful of these people struggling to survive.

"Organ failure can strike anyone down and all I wanted was to give people a better chance. Presumed consent is a giant step forward."

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