Transplants that brought comfort to the bereaved: Parents tell Celia Hall of their gratitude that something could be saved from their sons' lives when they were killed

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The Independent Online
IN OCTOBER last year Tony and Brenda Fowler's son Mark died in a car accident. Mark, aged 23, was carried, in circumstances that are still unclear, 600 yards on the bonnet of a car.

He broke his neck and he sustained severe head injuries. The accident happened at 10pm on a Wednesday. In less than 24 hours and after two tests to establish brain stem death, his parents, from Yatton near Bristol, had agreed that Mark's body should be given for organ transplantation.

His heart, his lungs, his kidneys and his corneas where used, successfully, as far as his parents are aware, to bring life, health and sight to seven other human beings.

'It is a great comfort that we can feel that a little part of our son is living on in other people, that he is helping them to be alive,' Mrs Fowler said. At present there are 5,700 people waiting for organ transplants. Health ministers believe that the donor-card system is not working properly. Doctors say families are often confused about relatives' wishes and they hope that a new national computer register, as reported on today's front page, will be more efficient. Mrs Fowler told how the hospital transplant co-ordinator had broached the subject after the first brain-stem test, on the Thursday afternoon. 'Mark carried a donor card and we had discussed it with him some years before when he was a teenager. But it still came as a tremendous shock even though we knew what his wishes were.

'The second test, done I think by a different group of doctors, was that evening. It was very terrible but we had time to think about it. The hospital was wonderful. They could not have been kinder. We gave permission and that really was it.

'Our son is extremely missed. But something has been saved from his life.'

David and Susan Watson's son, Richard, was 24 when he died, run over by a car in the week before Christmas, near their home in Middlesbrough. One kidney, his heart valves and liver were used for transplant surgery and his corneas went to an eye bank.

Mr Watson would like to know, in the future, how the recipients are getting on. 'Perhaps just a letter a year to say 'I'm doing fine'. It is not Richard and can never be Richard and it will not bring him back. But when it all seems pointless it helps to know that it was not a total waste of time after all.'

Richard was in the Army and had carried a card. When his parents knew that he would not survive they suggested organ donation to his doctors. Mr Watson believes strongly that the views of the next of kin should not override the wishes of their loved ones and hopes that new arrangements over donation will make this clear.

Ross Taylor, kidney transplant surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne and spokesman for the British Transplantation Society, says that the present system, with or without a donor card is 'strictly speaking, a system of family consent'. He would like the new system to make three possibilities clear: that a person has opted into the donor system; that he or she made a decision not to donate; or that they were undecided. 'What is proposed is a fundamental difference. Instead of asking the family to make a decision, you would be asking them to acquiesce. If the decision had been 'no' you could ask if anything had been said since that changed the position and if the wishes were not known you could ask the family if they had any objections.'

Sir Roy Calne, professor of surgery at Cambridge University and a transplant pioneer, said there would 'never' be enough organs available for the number of people who could be helped. 'Hardly anybody carried the donor card, so anything that brings organ donation to the attention of the public should be welcomed.'

Although 75 per cent of people have said in surveys that they would would agree to be donors, only 25 per cent fill in a card and only 18 per cent carry one.

(Photograph omitted)