Kind Emma Witty, 19, is ‘still alive’ in 10 people two years after tragic death

Catherine Gregson, from Bramley, holds a picture of her late daughter Emma Witty, whose organs have changed the lives of 10 people. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Catherine Gregson, from Bramley, holds a picture of her late daughter Emma Witty, whose organs have changed the lives of 10 people. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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The fact that the heart of 19-year-old Emma Witty still beats two years after her death offers some solace to her family.

The life of the aspiring photographer, who had a passion for wildlife and music, was tragically cut short by a bleed on the brain that struck when she was home alone in June 2013.

Rocks marked in memory of Emma Witty as part of the '4000ft to freedom' fundraising mountain climb.

Rocks marked in memory of Emma Witty as part of the '4000ft to freedom' fundraising mountain climb.

Her mother, Catherine Gregson, was at Emma’s grandmother’s house on the night but after she and Emma’s boyfriend Oli Dobson became worried when she wasn’t answering her phone, Oli cycled 10miles to find her collapsed at her Bramley home.

Still troubled by the events that saw her darling daughter taken away so cruelly, Catherine takes some comfort from her decision to consent to Emma becoming an organ donor - a move that has gone on to change the lives of 10 people.


The teenager saved six lives. Her heart was given to a young woman in her 20s, a man in his 50s received her pancreas and one of her kidneys, her lungs and other kidney went to men in their 60s, while her liver was split between a man and a one year-old girl. Her eyes saved the sight of four people.

Emma Witty died at the age of just 19.

Emma Witty died at the age of just 19.

Catherine, 51, who is speaking out in support of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust’s YEP-backed Be A Hero organ donation campaign, is determined that Emma’s legacy continues and hopes that her dreams are realised, albeit in the lives of others.

“It’s very difficult. I still feel shocked, I don’t feel she’s going to come home but I still think ‘how could that happen, why couldn’t we save her life?’. It just upsets me so much, she was just full of life,” she said.

“Emma’s still out there, her eyes are still seeing the world, her heart’s still beating, her lungs are still breathing. She’s out there, she’s still alive.”

Emma, who had been volunteering at Meanwood Valley Urban Farm earlier in the day, died when an aneurysm in her brain ruptured, causing a bleed similar to a stroke called a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Doctors believe it could have been something she was born with, although it would only have been spotted through targeted scans.

She was rushed to Leeds St James’s Hospital after Oli found her and Catherine was called and told what had happened at around 1am.

Emma was then transported to Leeds General Infirmary for emergency surgery to relieve pressure on her brain, before spending a week in intensive care during which she woke up dazed and confused but recognised friends and family.

News had spread of her plight and around 100 of her friends staged a vigil in Millennium Square in support of her but within days of being put back on a ward she passed away.

“She never wanted to be the centre of attention but she always was, she was so nice. She was like an agony aunt to everybody,” Catherine, who also has sons Sam, 31, and Thomas, 29, explained. “We asked to see the organ donation nurse, we knew Emma’s wishes as we knew she had an organ donor card as she wanted to help other people.

“I’m a big believer in it because it’s a waste otherwise. I always look at it that if we ever needed anything for Emma you would give it as it would save her life. Lots of people would take it but not many think of giving.”

After her death an outpouring of emotion followed, with around 350 people attending her funeral and a series of ‘4,000ft to Freedom’ fundraisers being organised, in reference to her favourite songs.

As part of the fundraising Oli’s band China Shop Bull performed Emma’s favourite song, ‘Freebird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd at the top of each of the Three Peaks within 24 hours last year in aid of the Stroke Association.

She posthumously graduated from her photography course at Leeds City College and the institution also dedicated an award to her in her memory.

Catherine, who has lost her daughter, mother and father in less than two years, has since been sent a letter from a man, who received both Emma’s lungs, expressing his thanks. She would love to hear from others.

Quoting Emma’s boyfriend Oli, she added: “Whereas 100 people were affected by Emma’s death, when those six people got the phone call [to say they had a donor organ] there would be 600 people rejoicing at the same time. I thought that was really poignant.”

As part of the Be A Hero campaign we are publishing the heartening stories of the everyday heroes who support lifesaving organ transplants, the brave families who agreed to organ donation in difficult circumstances as well as those of families facing the agonising wait for a transplant.

It comes after it emerged that last year only around 100 people donated their organs in Yorkshire, while almost 800 people in the county are waiting for a transplant. Nationally there are around 10,000 people waiting for a transplant, and of those three a day die waiting.

Click here to find out more about organ donation and how to join the NHS Organ Donor Register as part of the Be A Hero campaign.


We’re urging residents to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register and become a hero.

To raise the profile of Be A Hero we’re also urging workplaces and communities to support the campaign through anything from putting up a Be A Hero poster to hosting a superhero day. You can even download a #BeAHero mask from and tweet your superhero selfies to @Leedsnews and @LTHTrust using the hashtag #BeAHero.

Supporters can also send #BeAHero messages of support to or send their tales of organ donation via email to