Raising organ donation awareness with knitted ducks

Raising organ donation awareness with knitted ducks
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As the first anniversary of her daughter’s death approached, Ann Rowcliffe had a decision to make. She wanted to mark the day Clare (26) finally lost her life long battle with cystic fibrosis (CF) but “it would have been easy to just sit and wallow,” admits the former Peterborough teacher.

Knowing brave, bubbly Clare would’ve frowned at that, Ann  knew she’d have to dream up  a very special way of remembering her. In the same dilemma was Clare’s best friend Emma. Between them they had an inspired idea... 

No matter how tough things got living with the life-shortening genetic condition, which caused breathing and digestive problems, Clare had always stayed positive and optimistic.

“I was never allowed to be negative either,” says Ann (58). Even at Clare’s funeral, she barely shed a tear as she took to heart the strict message her daughter had left her to be read after her death.
“I had to get on and live my life for both of us. She gave me a month to mourn but no more; she wanted me to be happy not sad, and to get on and do things.”

Diagnosed at four weeks old, Clare had never let CF hold her back. Ann adds: “But I never stopped Clare doing anything. She had an illness; life had to go on. She’d have resented me always saying no.”

Clare grew into a confident young woman who gained a university degree and went travelling before finding a job and flat near her mum and stepdad. “She was very sunny natured and determined, with a quirky sense of humour. If you think your children are happy, that’s the important thing, although I did gasp when she phoned me from Australia and said she’d been skydiving!”

Mulling over her memories, the overriding ones were of Clare’s inherent kindness. “She always put others before herself,” says Ann.

Almost a year before her death,  doctors at Papworth Hospital told Clare she needed a double lung transplant and she was put on the list in July 2012, but a donor never came forward. “She was optimistic right to the end, but there weren’t even any false alarms,” recalls Ann. By October, she was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe and urged by her doctor to write goodbye letters.

“It was horrible, absolutely horrible. I knew then how poorly Clare was,” adds Ann, who stayed in hospital with her daughter for the last five weeks of her life.Knowing how strongly Clare felt about registering as an organ donor, she spoke to a nurse but was told because of her condition, only her corneas would be suitable for donation. “I had to ask Clare if she would be happy donating her corneas and her answer was yes immediately,” says Ann.

After she died peacefully on April 15, 2013, two people benefited from Clare’s eyes.

‘Hopefully people will take their fun gift home and talk about organ donation
with their families’

“Clare had such brilliant blue eyes; everybody commented on them. It gave me a lot of comfort to think she could help someone else. That was always what she was about. I was honoured to have her as my daughter,” says Ann.

The idea for the The Little Yellow Duck Project came about after Ann decided she wanted to mark Clare’s anniversary by spreading the word on organ, blood, bone marrow and tissue donation. She remembered a story she’d seen online about a man giving flowers to a stranger. “I thought it was a great idea to remember her by giving away gifts and telling people about organ donation,” she recalls.

Clare’s best friend Emma Harris, who also has CF, suggested they set up a project involving Clare’s love of yellow ducks, and had the idea for people across the world to make ducks as gifts and leave them in public places.  Attached is a tag urging them to visit the website and pledge to register as donors. “I thought it was a brilliant idea,” adds Ann. “Clare loved craft and had collected ducks since her teens.”

On April 15 this year Ann handed out 200 gifts to complete strangers. “I got a few funny looks at first but once people realised I was not trying to sell them something, everybody was really kind. It also made us feel good to do something positive.”

Since then, the scheme has extended to eight other countries.

Emma (40) says: “I don’t really know where the idea came from but Clare was such a funny and kind person it just seemed right. She was a fantastic godmother to my son Teddy (4). I think she’d love what we’re doing, especially as it involves travelling ducks!”

Ann adds: “Hopefully people will take their fun gift home and  talk about organ donation with their families without worrying about it being too morbid. I think Clare would be very amused and she’d love the idea of making people smile which it does. Clare’s optimism was always infectious. Now her kindness is too – all over the world.”

  • If you’d like to help with the project, the duck pattern and tag outline are available from www.thelittleyellowduckproject.org
  • Have you knitted a Yellow Duck? We'd love to see a picture of your prodigies before they get snapped up! Send them to us at Yours magazine, Media House, Peterborough Business Park, Peterborough PE2 6EA
  • To find out more about how you can register to be an organ donor, call the NHS Organ Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk