Ten years ago my daughter, Paula, aged 24 years was killed in a motor vehicle accident in Johannesburg South Africa and became an organ donor. On a recent visit to South Africa it gave me great peace and comfort to see that two memorial gardens for donors of organs and tissue had been erected at a cemetery called St Martin, in Ceder Lakes a suburb of Johannesburg.When my daughter, Paula, was in an accident in Johannesburg, she was resuscitated at the scene of the accident by the paramedics in attendance and this resuscitation continued at the Mill Park Hospital in the Trauma Intensive Care Ward. Needless to say shock at this devastating situation abounded and I, along with my equally devasted son and good friends sat around waiting anxiously for any bit of news that would give us hope. Paula was removed from the Resuscitation Ward to X-ray where an MRI and other x-rays were carried out. The prognosis was not good and our darling daughter and sister lay there like an angel, no sign of movement except for the machines doing their job around her. There were no external signs of injury and except for the stillness and the paleness one could easily have mistaken her to be asleep. However in my heart of hearts I knew that she was no longer with us. I guess it’s a Mom’s intuition. I found it very difficult to sit and talk to her as did my son. The accident happened at around 12.30 am on the Saturday morning and at 4.30 am we were advised to return home. At 7am we received a call from the Neuro-Surgeon in attendance to request that we return to the hospital urgently. At this stage I really felt that Paula’s short life had come to an end. So as you can imagine it was not unexpected when the Surgeon pronounced her “brain –dead”, but nevertheless shocking and heart breaking. I was particularly aware of my son who had 4 years previously lost his Dad to cancer.
Organ transplant never entered my head but I was aware that some decision about the next step would have to be taken. Des and I were taken to a small anti room where we were met by the Surgeon who asked us if we would consider allowing Paula’s body to given for donation. Des and I both agreed, although the subject had never arisen, but we felt that Paula, always generous, fun loving and willing to help any one, would have agreed. So our decision to go ahead was based on this.
On looking back, I think it was easier than having to make a decision as to whether or not to turn off the machines as it somehow didn’t seem so final.
We waited with Paula until it was time to take her to theatre and we accompanied her there. I have one regret that I wasn’t there when she came out. The next time we saw her was at the funeral home 2 days later. In the meantime she had to be taken to the government mortuary for identification and post mortem, due to the unusual circumstances of her death. So it was a long process from start to finish (If there is any conclusion).
The funeral took place the following Wednesday and she was laid to rest off the coast of Port Elizabeth along with her Father. A memorial was set up alongside her Father’s in the Garden of Remembrance at the Catholic Church in Bryanston South Africa. It was about two years after this that I decided to come to Ireland and as a result memorials are also on my parents graves in Crossmolina Co Mayo. It is important to have some where to “go”.
I returned to South Africa during the Summer, one of the reasons being that it was Paula’s 10th Anniversary and I wanted to revisit the memorial and go to PE to stand on the pier, as we had done all those years ago.
A friend and I located this cemetery and were delighted to find that there were two beautiful memorials dedicated to all donors since 1996 and on the plaque for 1999, was printed Paula’s name. It is in the most tranquil setting with quotes by famous people which stress the importance of giving, especially a life. It also represents a thank you from the recipients.
I have to say that this experience has given me so much peace, because it truly represents the fact that Paula’s life was not wasted. In total she helped 23 people.
Memorial Garden at St. Martin's Cemetery, Ceder Lakes, Johannesburg, South Africa