Katie Baldwin meets a Leeds mother and father who faced unimaginable loss but then made a brave decision to save FIVE other lives.
IN the living room of Tracy and Alex Asquith’s home hangs a framed handprint.
There’s also a framed footprint, both from their beloved son Kyle.
But they’re not from when he was a baby, they were taken at the age he died – just 15.
A little over a month ago Kyle suddenly suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage.
His parents can sometimes smile when they recall the countless good memories they have. But the tears come frequently, and just as easily.
“I have good days and bad days,” said Mrs Asquith. “Good days are the days where I’m keeping busy.”
Kyle was a healthy, normal teenager – he liked playing computer games, his friends, football – especially Arsenal, fishing and model cars. He, along with his mum, supported Leeds Rhinos, at odds with his dad – a Bulls supporter.
He had been working at Leeds Audi because he wanted to be a mechanic, with his parents finding out since his death that he was about to be offered an apprenticeship. One of the things he liked most of all, his family say, was making people smile.
“He wanted to make people happy. He had a knack for making them laugh,” said his granddad Brian Woods.
“He was a little joker, always with something funny to say.”
That Friday in early March started normally enough. Kyle woke up with a headache but the Cockburn High School pupil wanted to go to school so he took a paracetamol and set off.
During the day, he went to his Young Firefighters course at Gipton Fire Station and while there felt a sharp pain in one side and went numb down that side.
His mum went to collect him from school and at tea-time took him to the GP. He underwent tests and all came back normal, so they went back to their Middleton home where Kyle seemed fine.
He was hungry and ate his tea, before suddenly becoming ill.
“About 15 minutes later he came running downstairs saying ‘it’s happening again’,” said his mum, 39.
“Within minutes he was screaming in agony, holding his head.”
His parents called an ambulance and when it arrived they could see that one side of his face had dropped.
Mr Asquith, a gearbox technician, said: “The last thing he said to Tracy was ‘Mum, don’t leave me, I’m scared’.”
Kyle was rushed to Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, where medics warned his parents to expect the worst.
Then he was transferred to a specialist ward at Leeds General Infirmary, where the next day the doctors gave them devastating news.
“We were told they had done some tests and at 12.10pm had pronounced him dead,” his dad, 41, said.
The teenager had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage. His family have since discovered he had been born with an abnormality and could have died at any time. Medics would not have been able to prevent it.
Despite their shock, his parents immediately thought about whether his organs could be transplanted.
“I had always been against organ donation but without hesitation both of us just thought it had to be done,” Mr Asquith said.
“Let’s get some good done out of something bad.”
They told medics not to switch off machines that were keeping Kyle alive until they had explained they wanted to donate his organs.
Mrs Asquith says Kyle loved to help others, and would have wanted his organs to be donated.
“Even though we hadn’t discussed things, he would have wanted to do it,” she said.
They agreed and were supported by their “excellent” specialist donor nurse.
Within a few days, they found out the recipients of Kyle’s organs were doing well and showing signs of improvement.
They’ve since been told that a young boy received Kyle’s heart and a teenager with cystic fibrosis was given his lungs.
One kidney went to a woman in her 20s and another kidney and pancreas to a father, while his liver saved a grandmother.
“If we had said no, most of them would have died,” Mr Asquith said. “They didn’t have a lot of time left.”
Since losing Kyle, his parents have been touched by the support they have had from family, friends, neighbours and especially his school, including teachers and classmates.
“Those kids in Year 10 have been a credit to the school,” Mr Asquith said.
Donations in his memory for the neuro intensive care unit at Leeds General Infirmary have already almost topped £1,000.
And knowing his organs have proved lifesavers for five other people has been a comfort in the most difficult of times.
Last week it was revealed that there has been a 50 per cent increase in organ donations from deceased donors since 2008.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) hailed the “outstanding” achievement, especially thanking families – like Kyle’s – who enable donations to take place.
But they said more donors were aways needed, as well as working to cut the number of transplants vetoed by relatives.
Dr Paul Murphy, a Leeds intensive care consultant and NHS Blood and Transplant’s national lead for organ donation, said: “Too many families continue to say no, sometimes even overturning their loved one’s commitment to donate after death. For instance, in 2011/12 alone, 125 families overruled the individual’s intention, recorded on the NHS Organ Donor Register, to become an organ donor. This is often because they were unaware that this was what they wanted and found it difficult to come to terms with at such an awful time of loss.”
Nearly 100 people from Leeds are currently on the waiting list for a transplant, with another 45 on the list from Wakefield.
An independent audit has shown that patients waiting for a kidney transplant at St James’s Hospital in Leeds are among the most likely to receive one.
Analysis shows that the team in Leeds are more likely to accept kidneys which have been declined by other centres, meaning more patients are getting transplants.
In addition, one-year survival rates are – at 95 per cent – better than the national average.
However, nationally three people a day die while waiting for an organ transplant.
Since 2008, 44 people from Leeds and at least 14 from Wakefield have lost their lives while they waited for the vital operation.
NHSBT is now calling on people from across the region to pledge to give the gift of life by signing up to the Organ Donor Register.
Cathy Jordan, specialist nurse for organ donation in Leeds, said: “Currently 10,000 people in the UK need a transplant and three people die every day due to the shortage of organs.
“We need people to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register and it is crucial they speak to their loved ones about their wishes.
“We are very grateful to the Yorkshire Evening Post for raising awareness of organ donation.
“Losing a child is always terrible for their family and friends but parents who have agreed to donate their child’s organs tell us that they gain comfort from knowing that they have enabled other children’s lives to be saved.”
BECOMING A DONOR
ALMOST 238,800 people from Leeds are currently on the Organ Donor Register.
That’s less than a third of the population of the local authority area.
In this country organs can only be donated if people have indicated they want to do so, or if their relatives decide to after their death.
People can specify which organs they do or don’t wish to donate.
Having medical conditions and being older do not necessarily mean organs can’t be donated – an expert decides in each case.
Everyone, of any age, can join the Organ Donor Register. Children need the consent of their parents or guardians.
To join the register, or for more information, log on to: www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 1232323.