“Here was something wonderful that I could do – he could do – for other people”

Petra’s whole world collapsed on the night her son was seriously injured in a car crash.

23 year old James was travelling at speed en route to a party. He misjudged a corner and was thrown through the driver’s window sustaining a significant head injury.

He spent three nights in a critical condition before his parents had to make the agonising decision to withdraw life support.

It was then that the subject of whether James could donate his organs for transplant was raised by members of the family.

Petra said: “It was the darkest of times. My husband told me he had taken a call from my stepmother. She had called to ask him to prepare me for the likelihood of the hospital wanting to talk about organ donation. Ironically, this kind attempt to protect me from something perceived as painful, was the one thing that shed a light in this darkness.

“As a mother, I would have done anything to save my son, but given that I could do nothing for him, here was something wonderful that I could do – he could do – for other people.”
Three people benefited from James’s heart valves while his kidneys gave two people a new outlook for the future.

Rewarding organ donors

And now, seven years after his death, Petra has been invited to accept a posthumous award on his behalf, created by the Order of St John and NHS Blood and Transplant to celebrate donors and members of their families who have shown a particular commitment to promoting organ donation, at a distinguished ceremony at St James’ Palace.

She said: “To receive the award does feel like an honour, but mostly because it is given in memory of James, who was a huge, shining light during his lifetime and through this gift of life to others, continues to be in death.
“I feel proud for him and I know he would feel proud and honoured too.
“I’d like also to think that it will mean something to all the hundreds of families who have also said yes in their darkest hour and brought light and life to both friends and strangers.
“It would be wonderful if these awards could help to raise the profile of organ donation and to help people understand that it really can be a positive, life-enhancing experience for donor families – even in tragic and traumatic times.”

Petra said James had been an amazing, loyal friend, good fun and the “life and soul of the party”.

She said: “He was always a live wire and I miss him daily.
When he died, all my hopes and aspirations for him died too, but out of my despair, the hope of the recipients became my hope; a new hope for them and their future. Their healing became my healing and I am grateful for that.
Not only have the lives of the five recipients been transformed by this gift, but my life too, has been enriched beyond measure.”

Petra now sits on the Committee for Organ Donation at Addenbrookes Hospital, where James was treated after his accident.

She said: “I think everyone should talk to their families about what they would like to happen in the event of their death."

“We must stop being squeamish – when we die our organs are of no use to us, but they can transform, and save the lives of other people. It is so much easier for families to say yes, if you have discussed it, and if it’s what you really want your family need to know. Even if you are on the register, if you haven’t told your family they can overrule your decision – so make it clear.”

Around 3 people die every day due a shortage of organ donations; one donor could save or enhance the lives of up to nine people; but only 31% of the UK population are registered on the organ donation register. If you would like to add your name to the UK Organ Donor Register, please register here.