Fiona Birkinshaw’s world was shattered in January 2014 when her mum Pamela, 74, suddenly collapsed and had to be airlifted from her home in Orkney to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow with a suspected brain haemorrhage.
As the surgeons operated, Fiona made the frantic journey from Inverness, to Orkney to collect her dad, and then on to Glasgow all the time hoping that things would be okay. The next day, the family were met with the devastating news that nothing could be done.
Recalling that day, Fiona said “My mum was fine during the day, but she collapsed after feeding the sheep in the field. She was airlifted to hospital and we knew it was serious. We found out they were planning to operate to help take the pressure off her brain, and I dashed to Orkney and then on to Glasgow with my dad. It was all such a mad panic to get down and adrenalin just took over, I don’t even remember the journey.”
Awaiting news, Fiona spent the night in the car with her own dogs and her mum and dad’s dog, as the dogs knew something was wrong and she didn’t want them to be alone as it was a freezing cold night.
Fiona said: “The next morning we knew the news wasn’t good. Doctors explained the situation and told us that mum hadn’t recovered. The team were amazing, but it was such a shock and a lot to take in.
“At this point, we were approached about organ donation. My dad was obviously struggling to deal with the news and was a bit unsure about the whole thing, as he didn’t want them doing anything to mum. But I knew mum wanted to be an organ donor, as we’d already discussed it.
“When dad expressed his reservations, I told him that it wasn’t his choice. Mum had already made the choice.
“That whole week was pretty traumatic, but the team at the hospital were really good at explaining what would happen and let us know we’d have the chance to say goodbye. Mum was being kept alive by machines and when they were switched off, it was such a shock, it felt too quick. It was hard to get your head round the fact she’d been fine, laughing and so happy on the day it happened and had literally gone from everything to nothing.”
Speaking about how the family moved on after Pamela’s passing, Fiona said, “Afterwards I did struggle with it, as did my dad. When we heard mum was being honoured at a memorial service for Scottish organ donors in Edinburgh, we dithered over whether to go but decided to go. The whole event was like closure and at that point we started to accept that mum’s death had actually saved someone’s life. It brought huge comfort to be with other people who had experienced the same thing and be around the doctors and nurses who were involved in her care.
She continued, “My dad has accepted now it was the right thing to do. It’s not the manly thing to show emotions, but I think he benefitted in some small way from being at the event. There were plenty of tears and laughter that day, and I think we all felt a sense of pride. I know mum would have loved the secluded area of the Royal Botanical Garden set aside to commemorate Scottish organ donors."
Acknowledging how difficult making the decision was, but how the conversation they’d had years earlier helped, Fiona said, “If I’d had to make that decision myself on my mum’s behalf, without knowing what she had wanted, I’d have found that massively difficult. Mum and I used to have some seriously morbid discussions regarding mum passing on, but always had a laugh and a joke about it.
“I know the number of donors is rising, but I was still shocked at how few there are. That’s why I wanted to share mum’s story. I think it’s important people are aware of the difference organ donation can make, and I’d urge people to speak to their loved ones about what they’d want to happen. I’m glad we knew mum’s wishes, and am proud we honoured them.”