Text: Peggy Frey

"Saving two lives didn't bring my child back"

Agreeing to donate someone else’s organs is a difficult choice that often comes down to grieving loved ones. Testimonial.

Accident. Trauma. Illness. Some patients admitted to intensive care in a critical condition cannot be saved. And when they die, the question of agreeing to organ donation on behalf of someone else may be raised. That is a heart-wrenching decision for family members to make when they are already mourning the loss of loved one. Especially when it is a child.

Isabelle (name changed) and her husband were faced with that terrible choice. Their son was in an accident, and they decided to donate his organs to save the life of other children. “It’s strange. Before going through that, my husband and I had already discussed the issue of organ donation,” the young woman remembers. “I was really in favour of it and he was against it.” When the time came to make that decision for their six-year old son, their positions went the opposite way. “After they announced his death, I was in complete denial, and I didn’t want to accept the death of my child. It seemed impossible to donate his organs in that state of mind. It had nothing to do with his kidneys, lungs or heart. I just couldn’t come to grips with the fact that he was gone, that someone could touch his body, which for me was still alive.”

Decisions made in pain

To get help in making their decision, the couple sought the advice of a friend who is a neurosurgeon. “She and the intensive care staff at CHUV, where our son was hospitalised, explained each step in the process, from removal to transplant into recipients waiting for an organ. I realised how important our choice would be, and I gradually understood the irreversibility of brain death.” The couple then had three days to make a decision. Isabelle has no recollection of that painful time.

“I’ve completely lost all memory of it. I only remember agreeing to donation. His kidneys, corneas and liver were removed. For the other transplantable organs, there were fortunately no children his age on the waiting list.”

On Christmas day, a call from CHUV confirmed that the transplants were a success. Two children’s lives had been saved with the organs of Isabelle’s son. “My reaction was surprising. For a few seconds, I felt relieved by the news, before going back to the reality of the loss of our child. Although I was happy that two lives had been saved through his, he wouldn’t be coming back. I felt it wouldn’t change anything in my life or for our family, and we didn’t want any more news.” Even with time, Isabelle and her husband have trouble comprehending the goodness and beauty of their act. Slowly, as they move through the grieving process, they can now talk about their decision. A first step...