Hope from tragedy: Organ donor changes 57 lives
Durban - Bryn Magree brought sunshine into the lives of his family and friends.
But the 16-year-old boy from Westville, who collapsed and died from a brain aneurysm at the beginning of the year, has also brought hope and a future to 57 other people since his death.
This week, his mother, Janine, spoke about her son and how he had signed up to be an organ donor a couple of months before he unexpectedly died.
When Bryn collapsed at a local gym, he was taken to King Edward VIII Hospital where his heart was re-started after it stopped for a second time late that night.
Magree and her husband, Brett, approached the hospital's doctors.
“We wanted to ask whether tests could be conducted to ascertain whether Bryn was brain dead, so a decision could be made.
“I knew of another young boy whose organs had not been viable for donation because the wait for a response to treatment had been too long,” she said.
Coincidentally, a few months before Bryn died, she had read about another local Durban youngster, Matthew Legemaate, and his need for a heart and double lung transplant.
“His mother had written quite a lot about him. I went home and we discussed organ donation over the dinner table.
“I asked the family if they were keen to sign up and Bryn said: ‘Why not? What am I going to do with my organs when I’m dead?’ There's also no cost involved and we all signed up,” said Magree.
She described the doctors’ response as highly compassionate.
“At King Edward, our experience was one of consideration for the family's sensibilities and even when I'd asked the younger doctor to explain to Bryn's friends why the decision had been made and why the time factor was important (viability of the organs), he didn't just do his duty and move on.
“At 3.30am, he and a nurse friend had a vigil alongside Bryn's bed, holding his hand,” she said.
After three hours’ sleep that night, Magree woke up knowing that she and the family would be saying good-bye to their much-loved son and brother. On her dressing table, she saw a piece of card with two roses printed on it which had been leftover from an art project Bryn had been working on.
“I took the roses to be a sign of Bryn's love and that he was at peace,” she said.
Bryn was moved to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital where two teams harvested his organs, bone and tissue.
“It hurt like hell and it still does, but we have the consolation of knowing his fit young body was used to help others. What I didn't know was that by agreeing to donate not only organs, but also tissue, bone and corneas, Bryn was helping as many as 60 people,” she said.
Describing Bryn as a “cuddly blond baby with a radiant smile”, Janine said her son loved sport, including soccer, rugby, swimming, surfing and lifesaving and captained the water polo team. He was also good at art, music and dancing, and was a bit of a risk-taker.
“He would skateboard to the end of the cul-de-sac with his pals at about 70km/h and fearlessly leapt off the cliff at Inanda Dam.
"He was also good with little children and attracted a following of youngsters,” she said.
He also “struggled to rise and shine, procrastinated and took ages in the bathroom but we would gladly endure these minor irritations if we could only turn back time”.
“If we have managed to spare another family this heartache, then we are glad we made the decision to donate," she said.
“Our boy was more than just his body, and we know we'll be together in time,” said Janine.
While compatibility with Matthew Legemaate was ruled out at the hospital, the Magree family know their decision has moved Matthew up the list as a waiting organ recipient.
On Thursday, his mother, Janet, said: “For Janine to think of Matthew at such a terrible time shows just what an incredible person she is. She loved her son with everything in her, but when she knew nothing could help him anymore, she gave the gift of life to so many.”
She added that Matthew’s health had “begun to deteriorate at a more rapid rate and now he only spends two or so hours at school each day. But he told us recently that he is determined to remain positive and makes a conscious effort to do so, and that it helps that we help him plan things to do.”
How to become an organ donor
Organ Donor Foundation spokesperson Gillian Walker said: “I have huge admiration for Bryn and his family for making the honourable and selfless decision to say yes to organ and tissue donation, and give the gift of life to so many.
“They are a wonderful example and the way they are continuing to increase awareness for organ and tissue donation is remarkable.”
Walker said that through organ and tissue donation, it was possible for one donor to save seven lives by donating a heart, two lungs, two kidneys, and a liver and a pancreas; and improve up to 50 lives by donating skin, bone, tendons, heart valves and corneas.
The foundation’s statistics for last year show KwaZulu-Natal remains very low when it comes to organ transplants, with a figure of 34 transplants.
This despite having a population count close to that of Gauteng, which led the way with 160 transplants.
Cape Town takes second place with 134 transplants. These figures include related living donors, non-related living donors and cadaver donors, of which there are very few.
According to Walker, the majority of transplants were for kidneys, for which there was also the highest demand “as a result of lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension”.
Registering to become an organ donor is free.
Go to www.odf.org.za, or call the toll free number, 0800 22 66 11.
Independent on Saturday