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Health Minister Edwin Poots, please change your mind on organ Bill

Appeal by dad waiting for heart transplant as Poots reveals why donor issue such a personal one

By Rebecca Black

Health Minister Edwin Poots has revealed that his mother's life could have been saved if a liver transplant had been available to her – but stands by his reservations about a new law which could see an increase in the number of available organs.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Poots said organ donation is a personal issue for him.

He has revealed that his uncle was one of the earliest recipients of a kidney transplant in Northern Ireland, and continues to thrive today as a result.

He also poignantly writes about how his mother's life could have been saved if a liver had been available for her.

She never drank alcohol yet developed liver disease and as a result died early.

"This issue is very important to me personally, as I want to save lives through organ donation," he said.

However, Mr Poots said he will "follow closely the views of the professionals" and emphasised that he will be "cautious about legislative change without clear clinical support from those with the expertise of working day in, day out in this field".

The minister said he appreciated that some people may feel disappointed that he has asked for more consultation on a Private Member's Bill proposed by UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson that would see people have to opt out of donating organs after their death. He said he firmly believed in raising awareness among the public on what he termed "this sensitive matter", pointing towards a Public Health Agency campaign launched on Tuesday which aims to get people talking about organ donation and making their family aware of their wishes.

Just 31% of the population have signed the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Around 15 people die each year waiting for an organ.

The revelations from Mr Poots came yesterday at the same time as further pressure to approve the opt-out law.

Londonderry man Andrew Duncan (37), who has been waiting for a new heart for three years, urged Mr Poots to change his mind.

Mr Duncan has two children, but they have only ever known their father as ill.

He has never even been able to play football with his 12-year-old son. He said he can only walk for 10 minutes before he is exhausted.

Yet, despite this, last week Mr Duncan pushed himself to complete a two-mile walk around Derry's Peace Bridge as part of the British Heart Foundation's Ramp Up The Red campaign.

He had to be pushed in a wheelchair up the hills, and said he was still recovering from the feat.

But he is determined to be strong enough to undergo the operation when a heart becomes available.

Mr Duncan currently has a battery-powered machine fitted to his heart – known as an LVAD – to keep him alive.

His condition lately led to him developing kidney disease, so he also has to undergo dialysis at Altnagelvin Hospital several times a week.

A successful heart transplant will transform his life.

He pleaded with Mr Poots to adopt the opt-out law.

"The new law is totally reasonable, if someone feels so strongly they don't want to donate organs they can simply choose not to and make their wishes known," he said.

"At the minute there are a lot of people who would gladly give organs but they are not on the donor register and they don't tell their families that they want to donate.

"We need presumed consent because there are organs out there that could be used and aren't while so many people are dying waiting for organs."

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