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Nurse in plea for families to join organ donor register

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 26/12/2015

Raising awareness: specialist nurse Norah Holmes
Raising awareness: specialist nurse Norah Holmes

A specialist nurse who supports families who have lost loved ones has spoken of how organ donation is the "ultimate gift" to give a person.

Norah Holmes from Holywood, Co Down was on call over Christmas and could be sent to any hospital across Northern Ireland at any time to help a family plunged into grief.

She is one of the specially trained nurses across the province who, when a family finds themselves in a time of bereavement, talks to them about how they could help to save another person's life.

Norah is one of many specialist nurses for organ donation who attend hospitals as quickly as possible following a death to help support families in decision-making.

This means patients waiting for an organ will stand the best chance of getting the transplants they need.

Although a difficult, challenging job dealing with distressed families, Norah, a nurse for 28 years says she feels a sense of pride being able to support people in the midst of grief.

"It can be a hard conversation to have but it is such an important one," she said.

"Our job is for them to make a decision that they don't regret."

The 48-year-old, who is based at the Royal Victoria Hospital, has worked there for almost five years.

"It is a very difficult time for the families but that unfortunately is the only time we can help them make that decision," she explained.

"We don't want them to look back and think 'why were we not asked about our loved one donating their organs?'

"We try to make it as sensitive a conversation as possible. We do have time to talk to them when other staff are extremely busy and that is one of our main roles -it is to support the family at that time in their life."

Norah said that each family is different when faced with a tragic situation.

"Some families automatically see the positives and they very much make our job easier.

"Some people find it more difficult to come to that decision and that it isn't for them.

"They are offering the gift of life to strangers.

"It is the ultimate gift you can give to anybody."

There are currenly 162 people on the transplant waiting list in Northern Ireland.

Around 15 people die every year waiting for an organ - that is on average one person dying every three weeks as they don't receive the vital organ they need.

Research shows 84% of people in Northern Ireland support organ donation, but statistics show that 40% of families here do not consent to the donation of their loved one's organs when faced with the choice.

Only 35% of the population is on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Norah added: "We know the people receiving the gift are in debt to the person who has died but also to the family who have been brave enough to make that decision.

"Families do take a great deal of comfort knowing that in their grief other people have been able to have their loved ones still with them."

Norah said that grieving families do find some comfort from their decision.

"We would very much encourage people to think what they would do if faced with that and to talk to their closest family about their decision." To sign the organ donor register visit:

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