Pic © Neil O'Conner, UNP
Every Christmas Ruth Beresford takes comfort from a letter she keeps in her handbag. The words make no mention of festive greetings, nor convey wishes for a happy new year. Instead they express gratitude that Ruth gave permission for her ten-year-old son Andrew’s liver to be donated after he died, following a car crash that also claimed the lives of her husband David, and other son Matthew (12).
The letter, which Ruth has carried with her since the tragedy in 1995, came from the family of a boy who received Andrew’s liver. He too was just ten years old and dreamed of becoming a footballer. Without the transplant he would not have survived, a fact which continues to help Ruth. However, as she reflects on the day when her family was so senselessly taken away, sadness is never far from the surface.
Ruth (59) from Derbyshire explains: “On December 22, 1995, David decided to take Matthew and Andrew to the Manchester United shop as a treat. They loved football, and Andrew wanted a goalie kit for Christmas. David thought they could pick up the kit and have a look around the shop. Both boys were very excited about Christmas, and David thought an outing was a good way to keep them occupied.
“I wasn’t able to go because I was working, and didn’t see the boys before I left as they were having a lie in. However, I remember kissing David goodbye and saying I’d see him later. Neither of us could have imagined that the only one who would return to our home would be me.”
On the way to the shop a speeding lorry ploughed into David’s car, killing him and Matthew instantly. Andrew, who was in the front passenger seat, showed signs of life and was rushed to hospital. Ruth later found out what had happened through a friend, and went to the hospital. Sadly the news wasn’t good.
“Having been told that my husband and eldest son had died left me in complete shock,” says Ruth. “I clung to the hope that Andrew, my baby, would live. Seeing him attached to machines was heartbreaking, and then the consultant explained it was unlikely he’d survive. I spent the night by his side in intensive care.
“As I sat with Andrew I remembered a conversation that David and I had with the boys about organ donation. Andrew told us who could have his toys if he died, and both boys said that if anything happened to them they would be willing to donate their organs. We told them that was a nice thing to say and thought no more about it. You never imagine that you’re going to be in a position where a decision like that has to be made. But at that point I knew what I had to do. It was too late to donate David and Matthew’s organs but I told the medical team that if Andrew died his organs could be donated.”
The next day Ruth was told that Andrew was brain dead. She held his hand as they wheeled him down to the theatre, and following the transplant – where his kidneys, liver, heart and lungs were removed – she washed, dressed and kissed him goodbye.
‘That night Andrew saved five children… It gave me some comfort knowing that he would live on in others’
“I learned from the transplant team that children’s organs are a precious gift,” says Ruth. “Often a child cannot have an adult’s organs because they are too big. That night Andrew saved five children, and I was so proud of him. It gave me some comfort knowing that he would live on in others.
“The following day was Christmas Eve and I went to Midnight Mass at our local church. I wanted to do something normal, and it felt right. For the next few weeks I was in a trance, and then it hit me that I was no longer Ruth, the wife and mother, but just Ruth. Sitting down for breakfast or dinner there was just one place at the table instead of four. Doing everything alone was hard. I often wished that I had been in the car with my family.”
A few months later, Ruth received a letter from the family of the boy who had received Andrew’s liver. They expressed their gratitude, going on to say they realised their joy was the result of sadness for someone else, and that it was a very special person who had donated their liver. The words continue to comfort Ruth, who has re-married and has two grown-up step-children.
“That letter still means so much to me,” she says. “I’ve carried it in my bag for the past 18 years. “It’s been all over the world on every trip. I don’t read it that often, but when I do it helps me, and I think, ‘Good on you, Andrew!’
“I know that organ donation isn’t an easy subject to talk about to children, but I would encourage everyone to do it because it saves lives. My world changed the Christmas that I lost my family, and that time of year will always be difficult for me. But it’s good to know that five people, who probably wouldn’t have survived, are out there living a normal life because Andrew said he wanted to donate his organs.
“Those few words went on to have a huge impact, and for that I’m very thankful.”
- To find out more about organ donation visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23
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