Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Sign up and be a real card-carrying hero

BBC Sports presenter Stephen Watson
BBC Sports presenter Stephen Watson

Editor's Viewpoint

BBC sports journalist Stephen Watson has long been something of a poster boy for Northern Ireland's hugely successful live kidney donor programme, having received one from his father almost 30 years ago.

That, as he said in our exclusive story yesterday, enabled him to lead a normal life and carry out his globetrotting reporting duties.

But now Stephen needs another transplant and has to undergo gruelling rounds of dialysis four days a week to stay alive. He agreed to the interview not to plead for a new kidney, but to highlight the continuing need for more organ donors.

Last year 14 people on the organ transplant waiting list died because suitable donors could not be found in time.

The kidney transplant programme is so successful because relatives or suitable matches can make live donations of a kidney and live quite normally with just one.

Indeed, it is so successful that we have the best per capita live kidney donations in the world.

And it is remarkable that every year people here donate a kidney to someone they will never meet, but who they want to help.

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Today we feature three other people whose experiences show both sides of the organ transplant story. Two Tyrone people had their lives transformed by heart transplant operations. One of them had only days to live when he received his new organ. Both have spoken out to encourage others to become donors and save lives.

The other person featured donated blood stem cells, which were used to save the life of a man in the US. It was an altruistic gesture that cost him only minor discomfort, but which meant everything to a stranger and his family.

There have been several suggestions on how to increase organ donation here.

One was an opt-out system in which people were automatically included on the organ donor register unless they withdrew their names. In the event of their death, relatives could still decline to donate their organs.

That initiative got bogged down at Stormont and the long-standing arrangement of people signing up to the organ donor register remains.

It is vital that anyone who signs an organ donor card talks over the implications with their families and stresses their desire that their wishes are observed in the event of death so they can give the greatest gift of all - life.

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