Just months after they wed, Sinead Mullan's husband was killed in a road accident... now, weeks before she gives birth to their first child, she takes comfort from the knowledge his organs have saved three lives
In deeply moving interview, the widow from Newbridge, near Toome, tells Ivan Little about the heartbreak of losing her GAA footballer husband - and why she had no hesitation in agreeing to the life-saving gifts
It's the picture of happiness. The photograph of a radiant Sinead Mullan and her smiling husband on their wedding day last year captured the couple's joy so perfectly that it was made into a jigsaw puzzle.
But the serene couple who were gazing lovingly into each other's eyes in Maghera's walled garden weren't to know that their lives would soon be shattered.
For in November, nearly three weeks after learning that Sinead was pregnant, Shaun, from Ballerin near Garvagh, died following a road accident.
But now, as a heartbroken Sinead prepares to give birth, she has revealed that Shaun's organs have been used to save lives in three transplant operations.
She knows nothing about the recipients' identities or where they live, but she has been told that Shaun's liver saved an elderly man and that his kidneys have also given new hope and renewed life to three patients on a lengthy waiting list.
His tissues have been stored and other organs are being put to use in research.
Sinead says she takes comfort from the fact that in death Shaun has been able to help people, just as he did in his life.
But she added: "It was good to learn that people have gained from the tragedy, but it doesn't make Shaun's loss any easier for me to bear."
In the house she and Shaun bought in Maghera - halfway between their families' homes in Newbridge near Toome and Ballerin - Sinead is surrounded by pictures of herself and her husband during the "happiest times of their lives".
She constantly wipes away tears as she talks about how they met on a Christmas night and quickly fell in love. And how she misses him every day.
But she smiles as she remembers Shaun's easy-going, fun-loving nature and how he would burst into song anywhere and everywhere.
His nickname was Elvis, but it wasn't due to his singing or because he was a fan of the King. It was all down to his hair.
"That was the nickname he was given at primary school, because his hair was quite high, and it stuck," Sinead explained.
Her baby is due next month, not long before what should have been the first anniversary of the couple's wedding, the highlights of which have been posted online.
She doesn't know if her baby is a boy or a girl, and while people keep saying she'll want a son to name after Shaun, she says her only concern is that the child is healthy.
She adds that Shaun, a senior Gaelic footballer with Ballerin Sarfields GAC, was excited at the prospect of becoming a dad.
The couple were planning to book a holiday in New York for Christmas if the results of Sinead's 12-week scan were positive.
Shaun's life, however, was cruelly ended in November. A transport planner in Swatragh, he had gone out for a morning cycle before going to his job at BP McKeefry's transport company.
Sinead, who was already at her work as a dental nurse at Antrim Area Hospital, had rung him just before 9am to make sure he was up.
He was riding his bike on the Glenshane Road not far from Maghera when it was in a collision with a van. Sinead's first clue that anything was wrong was when a colleague told her that her father-in-law was on his way to Antrim Area Hospital because Shaun had been involved in an accident.
But she never imagined it was so bad.
"I thought he had maybe broken a leg or something. And I just assumed Shaun was in the A&E department in Antrim," said Sinead, whose workmates knew it was more serious and kept her distracted until her father-in-law arrived.
She added: "I could see from his face that it was worse than a broken leg."
Relatives took her to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where Shaun was in the intensive care unit.
Sinead said: "We were brought into a family room and Shaun's sister, who works in Belfast, was already there. I was asked to identify Shaun, who was hooked up to machines, but that didn't particularly shock me because I work in theatres sometimes.
"I just thought that he was going to be okay. He was a big, strong man and I thought he would get through it. But it wasn't to be. We stayed with Shaun, but a couple of days after the accident they did tests on him which I didn't realise were to confirm that he was dead.
"And that's when it all hit me. I will never forget that Sunday."
In the wake of hie passing, transplant co-ordinators approached Sinead about the donation of his organs.
She said: "I wouldn't use the word 'happy', but I thought if there was something that could help somebody else it would be a good thing. The organs weren't going to be any use to Shaun.
"He didn't have a donor card, but I knew from his personality that he always liked helping people, so donating his organs just seemed to be the right thing to do."
The transplant teams sensitively explained to Sinead and family members what was involved and they said if there were organs they didn't want to be removed they would respect their wishes.
"I said I wanted them to take whatever might be useful to them," said Sinead.
She later received a letter telling her that three people had been given her husband's organs.
His liver was donated to a man in his 60s for a "life-saving" transplant.
His kidneys were given to a man in his 50s who had been on the waiting list for three years and to a woman in her 30s who had been waiting for two-and-a-half years for a transplant.
The hospital team also said that some of Shaun's tissues have been stored for possible use in the future and that other organs have been used for research purposes. Sinead recently got a letter from the mother of one of the organ recipients to say thank-you to her and her family.
"It was all done through the organ donation people. I don't have any details about the woman who wrote the letter and she wasn't informed who I was," she explained.
"I have been assured that I can write back, but I haven't done that yet."
Shaun's funeral was large, with hundreds of people packing the Church of St Mary in Ballerin.
Everyone knew him as Elvis, which was why his club printed his nickname on the back of special tribute jerseys they produced to honour the popular player.
On the front they added the logo of the Opt For Life campaign started by former Derry GAA star Joe Brolly in a bid to increase the number of people signing up for organ donations here.
The GAA pundit was a guest at a special gala night in Swatragh last month to celebrate Shaun's life.
Friends say it was the sort of night that Shaun, who had six sisters and a brother, would have loved, a night dominated by laughter as stars of the sport like Brolly, Tyrone's Owen Mulligan and Joe McMahon and Donegal's Brendan Devenney swapped hilarious stories of their exploits on the field.
"The place was packed. It was uproarious and life-affirming at the same time," Brolly said.
But he also addressed the 400 guests in a marquee about the importance of people donating their organs.
Over £24,000 was raised for a number of charities, including Revive ICU at the RVH, through an auction of memorabilia which included Celtic skipper Scott Brown's kit and Coleraine star Eoin Bradley's Irish Cup winning shirt, along with Rory McIlroy gear.
Sinead says Shaun was passionate about lots of sport and not just Gaelic football. He also enjoyed cycling, golf and working out in the gym two or three times a week
"He liked to keep fit," she said.
Shaun was an Arsenal fan and Sinead's smile comes back as she recalls the thrill he got when she gave him a present of tickets for a Gunners match at the Emirates Stadium in London.
Sinead, who had been a follower of her local Newbridge Sean O' Leary's, liked watching Shaun play for Sarsfields.
He was a strapping six footer who didn't shirk a challenge or a tackle.
The Ballerin club mentioned his courage in a moving tribute: "Shaun loved a tough, physical battle during a game and this side of his personality shone through to the end as he tried his best to battle the injuries he suffered in the tragic accident."