I trained as a nurse at Whiteabbey Hospital, qualifying in 1988. After that I did my midwifery training and worked as a midwife in the Mater Hospital; my son Laurie – our only child – was born there on 2 April 1998.
My husband was in the army and we lived in several places abroad, moving back to Northern Ireland in 2012. Laurie thrived at school and went on to study at Queen’s University. He was finishing his Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering last year when covid broke out.
I moved from the Whiteabbey Endoscopy Unit, where I normally work, to ICU at Antrim Area Hospital, and Laurie moved home to stay with us.
Laurie was very proud of me working in ICU
I spent 10 weeks working there and sat with patients who were dying with covid. It was an emotional time for me and all my colleagues; I remember every single patient I looked after and also patients I was with when they passed away.
Laurie was very proud of me working in ICU and it was nice having him home with us. He did three three-hour exams for his degree in our dining room online. We were so proud of him. He was offered a conditional research PhD at Queen's University, Belfast, investigating fuel efficiencies for aircraft, on the basis of him passing his Master's degree.
On 8 June 2020 all our staff moved back to Endoscopy. We had a week to start getting ready for lists and to discuss our experiences working in ICU. Two days in, on 10 June, my husband rang me in a panic. He said that Laurie had suddenly developed a headache and was unconscious. The paramedics were on their way.
In the hospital we found out Laurie had had an intercranial haemorrhage due to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). This is where the blood vessels malform and in Laurie’s case they provided no regulation to the blood flow from the artery to the vein at the base of the skull. He would have had it since birth. It was just a ticking time bomb. But we had no idea and our darling boy never had any symptoms.
They told us that he probably wasn’t going to recover. It was just awful.
Talking about organ donation
Before working in ICU, I knew nothing about organ donation.
During the pandemic, there was one woman I looked after in intensive care who really stayed with me. She was non-covid, she’d had a brain haemorrhage. She had five beautiful daughters. It was heart-breaking, but we did all we could to allow them to say their goodbyes.
I was privileged to be involved in her care. Her family had given permission to donate her organs. This was how I first met Nisa, the specialist donation nurse working at the time.
It just so happened that Nisa was at the Royal Victoria Hospital the morning we arrived with Laurie. She was shocked to see me and I said to her, “it's my turn now.” She cried with me and supported me.
That first night, I had a discussion with my husband about organ donation. We’d never talked about it before and I was afraid to ask in case I upset him, but he immediately said yes.
Before working in ICU, I knew nothing about organ donation
If I hadn’t had that experience working with the organ donation team in ICU, I honestly don’t know if I would have thought about it.
Nisa and Edel, the other donation nurse, went through all the information with us. We had to give permission for what we would donate.
Laurie passed away peacefully on the Saturday evening when his brain stem tests showed he was 100% unreactive. We spent all that night and the next morning with him until the donation team came down to get him to take him to theatre. They had a minute’s silence with us, with Laurie.
He donated his heart, liver and kidneys. He gave life to four men.
Mary, the specialist donation nurse who was going to be in theatre with him, asked us if there was anything we’d like her to do. We just asked her to hold his hand and tell him that we loved him. She rang me as soon as he came out of theatre. I will never forget her care and compassion.
The care we got as a family was impeccable
Remembering Laurie and the gift he gave
We received a letter recently inviting us to a ceremony next spring for families of patients who’ve donated their organs, where Laurie will be awarded the Order of St John. It’s nice to know they’re thinking of us and Laurie, and it will bring us together with other people who’ve been through similar experiences.
We also got a letter from the man who'd received one of Laurie’s kidneys. It was a beautiful letter. He’d never had any medical problems but had just suddenly gone into renal failure and needed a kidney transplant. He’s got a wife and two teenage daughters and he told us in his letter that all three of them had also suffered from his illness and the donation had given normality back to all the lives. He said he thinks about us every day. We’d love to maybe meet him one day.
I took time off work afterwards. The support from my nursing colleagues and from the Royal Victoria Hospital was amazing. The care we got as a family and the care Laurie got was impeccable. I was so grateful for their support, love and care.
I'm now back at work in Endoscopy. I love working there and although there are days I cry; I get a hug and support and it helps me continue.
We got a letter from the man who'd received one of Laurie's kidneys. He said he thinks about us every day
Steve and I were given information about a group called Anam Cara (Gaelic for “Soul mate”). It’s a support group across the entire island of Ireland for parents who have lost children. We attended a face-to-face meeting and when lockdown prohibited this, we attended online meetings. The group has been an enormous part of our lives; we talk with other parents and with counsellors who run the meetings. We have people in the same situation, who feel and share our pain. It has become vital to us and we thank the organ donation team for the steer to this support group.
Laurie never got his exam results, but we did. He got a 2:1 and was buried with his Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering certificate. We also found his driving licence and he had ticked to donate his organs. This really made us smile. Even though we didn’t know that at the time, that was just the kind of boy he was. Beautiful inside and out.
We are so proud of our boy Laurie. We miss him every day.