Rebecca Nix, 21, died in a car crash in America. Yet as her mother Jane explains in this emotional letter, her only daughter’s childhood pledge has given dozens of other people renewed hope.
You were a gentle, caring child, always putting others first. So it came as no surprise when you announced you wanted to be an organ donor.
You were only seven, and I can remember how serious you looked pushing the consent form into my hand. There’d been a talk at school, and your mind was made up. I talked it through with your dad, both of us touched by your determination. It was such a strange request for a child, but so like you. We signed the form.
As you grew up your donor card stayed in your purse getting tattier as the years passed. You even had to update it. I never gave it another thought, to be honest. Not until that fateful November night in 1996. You’d been working as an au pair in America for eight months, looking after three small boys. I was wrapping presents when the phone rang. I answered it, imagining your chirpy voice. But it was your friend Donna. She sounded tearful, struggled to get the words out. “There’s been a car crash,” she said “Becky’s dead.” I dropped the phone, screaming. After 10 minutes of sobbing I rang your dad on this mobile. “Rebecca’s dead,” I blurted. “Please drive home safely.”
Sitting alone, my mind played back our last conversation. You told me all about the new grey sweatshirt you’d brought. Before you rang off you said, “I love you, mum.” Now I’d never hear those words again. I hugged your dad when he arrived home, ashed-faced and speechless. We were too choked to speak.
The night wore on. A call from a doctor at the Hartford Hospital in Connecticut filled in the gaps about the accident. You were driving to meet the school bus and crashed head-on into another car. You’d died instantly, he said. You hadn’t suffered. That was a comfort.
We couldn’t sleep, lost in grief. Then a strange thing happened. An image of your red-and black donor card sprang into my mind. I jumped up, my thoughts racing. Did she have it on her? Do the doctors know about it? It was like you were propelling me forwards. Your dad dialed the hospital. He didn’t mince his words. “Take whatever you can from Rebecca,” he said. We were told your heart, lungs and liver couldn’t be used because they’d been starved of oxygen. But there was hope other parts could be transplanted. The nurse thanked us and promised she’d be in touch. A wave of relief flooded over me. The next day we learn surgeons had removed your eyes, heart valves, sections of your skin and bones. At last you were coming home to us.
Three days later I went to see you in the chapel of rest near our Birmingham home. You were wearing the American sweatshirt you’d told me about, you looked as if you were sleeping. I slipped your favourite brown lipstick in beside you, together with your Winnie The Pooh gloves. “You’re still my little girl,” I whispered. “You always will be.”
A month after your death the first letter came. Your corneas had restored the sight of a 24-year-old man and a 41-year-old women. We cried. Your skin had been grafted onto children suffering severe burns. Your heart valves were given to two men, while your bones were used to replace diseased tissue in dozens of patients.
A total of 74 people were helped by you. So even in death you reached out to others. Our grief is still raw and it would be too painful to contact any of them, but the hospital has told us every single one wanted to pass on their thanks for you special gift. I think every bereaved parent has an overwhelming fear their child will be forgotten. But we know that will never happen to you, Rebecca.
It’s such a comfort to know you’ve given so many people a better life. I’m so proud of you in death as I was during your all-too-short lifetime.
This is Steven Tibbey my heart donor
This is me (John Fisher) 7 days post heart transplant standing by my bed
“As you might imagine, my donor and his family have been in my thoughts daily.
Although I am eternally appreciative of my new lease of life, my gratitude has been overshadowed by my heartfelt sorrow for his family and their loss.
I have accepted my gift with great responsibility and with the hope that I can make a positive difference in someone else’s life like my donor has done for me.”
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