More than one patient a month dies in Lancashire waiting for an organ transplant, according to new figures.
A total of 134 people have tragically passed away in the county over the past decade because a suitable donor could not be found in time, says the NHS.
So today, at the start of Organ Donation Week, a fresh campaign has been launched to get more people to talk to their families and tell them they want to be donors.
“It’s a tragedy that people are dying unnecessarily every year in Lancashire waiting for transplants,” said Anthony Clarkson from NHS Blood and Transplant.
“We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be saved.”
The shock statistics show that there are currently 133 patients on the donor waiting list in Lancashire - a dozen of those in Preston.
Yet 12 people in the city have died while waiting for transplants since 2007.
The county has more than 520,000 would-be volunteers on the NHS Organ Donor Register. But the transplant service wants to at least double that to give more desperately ill people the chance of a new life.
The NHS says hundreds of life-saving transplants are being missed every year just because families don’t know what their relatives want. And the reluctance to talk about the issue is contributing to a “deadly shortage of organs.”
Anthony Clarkson appealed directly to more than a million people in Lancashire, saying: “If you want to save lives, don’t leave it too late to talk to your family.
If you are unsure about donation please ask yourselves as a family: what would you do if one of you needed a transplant?
“In Lancashire there are currently 133 people waiting for a transplant. They will only receive that life changing call if people make sure their families know they want to be a donor.
“This Organ Donation Week, tell your family you want to save lives.
“A few words now can make an extraordinary difference. It will also make things much easier for your family to make the right decision.
“If you are unsure about donation please ask yourselves as a family: what would you do if one of you needed a transplant? Would you accept a life-saving organ? If you’d take an organ, shouldn’t you be prepared to donate?”
NHS Blood and Transplant says there is a particular need for more black and Asian people to tak about donation.
There are 29 black or Asian people in the county currently on the transplant waiting list - they make up almost 30 per cent of patients nationally.
A spokesman said: “Organs from people from the same ethnic background are more likely to be a close match and give the best chance of a positive outcome.”
An NHS survey has revealed that while more than 80 per cent of the population nationally support organ donation, less than 50 per cent of people have ever talked about it to their loved ones. Research shows that women are 30 per cent more likely to start a conversation about organ donation than men.
Families who agree to donate say it helps with their grief and they feel an enormous sense of pride at knowing their relative gave others the chance of a new beginning.
‘Amazing gesture another family made at a time of grief’
Mum of two Natalie Kerr will tackle an assault course tomorrow to highlight organ donation, more than five years after she had a double lung transplant.
The 35-year-old insists she is living proof that donors save lives. And she urges everyone to tell their loved ones what their wishes are, should the unthinkable ever happen.
“I have spoken about it to my children,” she said, mother to Brandon, 15, and nine-year-old Isabelle. “They have both seen what it can mean to families like ours.
“They have had their mum around for five extra years because of the amazing gesture another family made at a time of real grief.”
Natalie, from Adlington, near Chorley, spent four months on the transplant waiting list at Wythenshawe Hospital before she was given the precious gift of life.
It was, she says, a desperate time, not knowing if she would get the surgery she needed as her condition worsened by the day. I was so poorly that they made me a priority,” she recalled. “They told me when I went on the list that I would be looking at an average wait of maybe a year and there was a possibility I wouldn’t get a pair of lungs.
“It was a lottery. You just had to keep waiting and hoping. You desperately want to get better, but you are always thinking that there are people who are going to die on the waiting list. It’s also horrible that people have to die for you to get a transplant.
“They tell you to get on with life as normal, but you can’t. Because you are poorly and your life depends on a transplant, you are always checking your phone and making sure it is charged and you have a signal in case the call comes.”
Natalie now helps to raise awareness of organ donation and will lead a team in tomorrow’s mini-games at Media City in Salford which is being staged to highlight Organ Donation Week.
“I fully support the work they are doing to make people aware of how important it is to tell your family what your wishes are,” she said.
“Even if people join the organ donor register it isn’t guaranteed their organs will be used after they have died. When doctors come to ask relatives it is such a traumatic situation that they can still say ‘no’ because it was never discussed.
“So I would urge everyone to sit round the table and discuss it and say what they want them to do if it ever happened.
“Organ donation works. I’m proof of that. Everyone should talk about it to their family and then there is no doubt. That way more lives could be saved.”