Busiest ever year for organ donation

Transplant recipient Heather Marshall.
Transplant recipient Heather Marshall.

The number of patients living in Scotland whose lives were saved or improved by an organ transplant has reached a record high.

New figures show that in 2016/17 there were 133 deceased organ donors in Scottish hospitals - up from 99 the previous year. This equates to a donor rate in Scotland of 24.8 per million of population - the highest rate in the UK. 348 people in Scotland waiting for an organ received a deceased donor transplant, which is also the highest ever number of transplants.

The NHSBT figures also show that the number of people in Scotland waiting for a transplant dropped to the lowest on record and that nearly 2.4 million people in Scotland are now on the NHS Organ Donor Register, which is approximately 45 per cent of the Scottish population.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “This is fantastic news and shows the real progress we’re making on organ donation. An increase in deceased donor numbers of 34 per cent is not only really positive news for people waiting for a transplant, it puts us ahead of our target in progressing to reach 26 deceased donors per million of population by 2020.

“And it means that more Scottish residents than ever before received a life-changing transplant, although we know that there is still more to do to ensure that as many people as possible can receive the transplants they need.

“We must always be mindful that most organ and tissue donation can only occur as a result of tragic circumstances and I’d like to thank every donor and their family who made the selfless decision to donate their organs or tissue and enabled others to live and transform their lives. I’m also very grateful to staff across the NHS in Scotland who work tirelessly to ensure that people’s donation wishes are respected and that every donation counts.

“Our consultation on a soft-op-out system closed recently and the responses are currently being independently analysed. We have a presumption in favour and will be setting out our next steps in the coming months.”

Primary teacher Heather Marshall was facing an uncertain future until she received a life-saving liver transplant in November 2016. The 40 year old from Gartcosh was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) in 2015 - a liver condition that she was initially able to manage with medication. However in 2016, Heather’s health went into rapid decline, resulting in her being listed for transplant in October 2016.

At this point, Heather was retaining fluid, was constantly itchy and nauseous, was unable to lie down due to the threat of fluid filling her lungs and struggled to breathe or eat – a state she describes as “just existing”.

The liver she desperately needed came just three weeks after being listed for transplant and Heather admits that she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the decision of her donor and their family.

Heather said: “From the start of 2016, I noticed a dramatic difference in my health. I had no energy, didn’t feel great and my skin had started to become jaundiced. Throughout the year I struggled with infections to my bile ducts which resulted in me being referred to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to be assessed for a transplant at the beginning of October.

“When I left the hospital after a week of assessment I was shocked at how ill I looked. I’d been working up until that point, but as soon as I stopped it was like my body had just given up.

“I knew that a transplant would be necessary at some point as it’s the only real treatment for PSC, but I had no idea it would happen so quickly. I went from being someone who worked full-time to someone who could barely function in a few short months. As well as the physical limitations, it was mentally very difficult.

Speaking about her transplant, Heather said: “I was relieved and excited when I got the call. I knew I wasn’t well and that I didn’t have long without a transplant, but it was such a conflict of emotion. You’re so aware that to get that chance of life, something awful had to happen to someone else.

“I’d always been on the NHS Organ Donor Register and I think it felt easier to accept that gift, knowing I would be happy to do the same for someone else.

“You never expect that this kind of thing will happen to you or someone you know so organ donation isn’t something that’s top of your mind. I understand it’s not for everybody, but I would encourage people to think about it and make their wishes known.

“I know that without my transplant I wouldn’t be here now. I got married just after my diagnosis, and because of my donor I have a future. I’ll never stop being grateful for that.”