Northern Ireland news

Sister of Co Antrim woman whose sudden death led to five lives being saved speaks of importance of educating young people about organ donation

Dáithí Mac Gabhann called into Fort Hill College in Lisburn to help organ donation campaigner and teacher Ciara Hunter present the specially commissioned Donate4Dáithí jersey to the school gaelic team. Picture by Mal McCann

THE sister of a woman whose sudden death led to five lives being saved through organ donation yesterday spoke of the importance of educating young people about "sharing your wishes".

Ciara Hunter, a teacher at Fort Hill Integrated College in Lisburn, hosted a virtual assembly alongside Máirtín Mac Gabhann, whose five-year-old son Dáithí is waiting for a heart transplant.

Ms Hunter said the event was organised to highlight that pupils should be taught about organ donation in schools.

"It is an important way of sharing the information and getting them to have that conversation," she said.

Less than two years ago, Ms Hunter's sister Clare McFaul (32) died after collapsing at her Larne home during a Zumba workout.

Family members performed CPR before paramedics took her to Antrim Area Hospital. Doctors told her family she suffered a brain bleed that had caused catastrophic injuries.

Ms McFaul died two days later and her family made the decision to donate her organs.

"It was then that we as a family were faced with conversation about organ donation," said Ms Hunter.

"It's not something Clare had discussed with us, she was only 32 years old, why would she?

"But suddenly as we sat in the room next to Clare that day we were faced with asking what her wishes would be and if yes, what organs would she want donated.

"She gave everything of herself all of the time, so we knew that she would want to help others. We know there are five people who were given life as a result."

Following her sister's death, Ms Hunter has become involved in spreading the message about organ donation.

"I believe pupils should be taught about organ donation in schools, it's an important way of sharing the information with them and getting them to have that conversation," she said.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a soft opt-out system of organ donation. Under the Organ Donation Bill going through the assembly, people would automatically become organ donors unless they specifically opt out.

Ms Hunter yesterday teamed up with the family of Dáithí Mac Gabhann to host a virtual assembly at Fort Hill to explain "both sides of organ donation".

Dáithí was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome in 2016 and has been on the list for a new heart ever since.

His parents, Máirtín Mac Gabhann and Seph Ní Mhealláin, have worked to promote organ donation with their Donate4Dáithí campaign.

Mr Mac Gabhann and Dáithi presented a specially commissioned Donate4Dáithí goalkeeper jersey to the school's first GAA team, the only controlled integrated school taking part in the Bearnageeha Cup this year.

"Máirtín is able to give his perspective to the pupils about his son waiting for organ donation, while I'm able to talk about what it's like from the other side of donating a loved ones organs," Ms Hunter said.

"This is particularly important at the moment with the Organ Donation Bill reaching the next stage in the assembly.

"Everywhere else in the UK, there is an opt-out system. But even if the law is passed here, people need to have had that conversation with their family to give permission for their organs to be used for transplant. And that is part of this initiative, it's to highlight the importance of sharing your wishes."

Ms Hunter said she hoped that once the law on organ donation is changed "we will see education around organ donation being brought into our schools".

"It is lovely also to do this in memory of Clare," she said.

"She did so much for everyone else, even during the first lockdown, she was making masks for carers, she was just that sort of person.

"She managed to save five lives and if by doing this talk and by talking to young people helps a bit more and saves some more lives, then it is worth it."

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