The family of a nuclear power station employee who plummeted to his death in a 30ft fall at work today revealed how he had signed up to become an organ donor after death just months before the horrific accident. Health Reporter Aasma Day finds out more.
Just before setting off for his night shift at Heysham Power Station, Chris Cowan watched an appeal on television about a little girl who desperately needed an organ donor.
With tears pricking his eyes, Chris turned to his girlfriend saying: “How sad. When I die, I want my organs to be donated so I can help people like her.”
Little did the former soldier know his words would come back to haunt Lucy as only hours later, he plunged to his death at work and his devastated family had to give their permission for 26-year-old Chris’s organs to be donated to save the lives of others.
Lucy McCarthy, who had been with Chris for seven years and lived with him in Ingleborough Road, Lancaster, says: “Organ donation was something Chris and I had discussed and we both said we would want to donate our organs after death to help save the lives of other people.
“Chris had only signed up as an organ donor in April this year when he was renewing his driving licence. I just never expected the time when his organs would be donated would come so soon.
“In a sad coincidence, just before Chris set off for work on the day he died, we saw a little girl on television who needed an organ donor and we had a conversation about it and Chris reiterated his wish to be a donor in the event of his death.
“That was the last time I saw him alive.”
Chris and Lucy had just returned from a holiday in Lanzarote just two days before his sudden death. It is believed Chris fell 30ft from a mezzanine balcony inside the Heysham 1 reactor building while working his night shift.
Paramedics rushed him to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, but he died of head injuries.
Chris’s death is being investigated by the police and Health and Safety Executive.
As well as his girlfriend Lucy, he leaves behind his devastated parents Mike, Christine and his sister, Sophie, 22. Lucy says: “I just feel utterly numb and incomplete.
“My whole world has been turned upside down. You never imagine something like this will happen to you.
“I just can’t believe Chris has suddenly gone. I still haven’t come to terms with it.”
Chris’s dad Mike, 62, who lives in Morecambe, says the whole family is struggling to cope with Chris’s death. And he revealed how he and wife Christine were full of relief when their son left the army as they were constantly worried for his safety when he was a soldier.
Chris, a former pupil at Carnforth High School, joined the army at the age of 16 with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers.
As a maintenance engineer with the Queen’s Royal Lancers, he was aboard one of the first tanks to enter Basra following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was based in Germany.
However, he left the forces three years ago and became a technician at Heysham Power Station.
Dad Mike says: “When Chris was in the army, we were always on tenterhooks.
“We we so happy when he left the army as we thought he would be safer. We never imagined he would be killed while working at the power station.
“We want answers as to what happened. All we know is that he went to work and never came back.”
Mike also revealed how the family was approached by hospital staff following Chris’s death asking for their permission for his organs to be donated.
Mike explains: “With organ donation, everything has to be in place within 24 hours of the person dying, which is why medical staff have to ask the question during such a traumatic time.
“Even though Chris had signed up for a donor card, the decision still rests with the family. We gave it the go ahead as it was Chris’s wish.
“Because of the nature of his death and the fact that he was not on a life support machine, his major organs couldn’t be donated.
However, other things like his eyes and tissue have been donated and we have been told he could help as many as 30 people.
“In a tiny corner of our mind, the fact that Chris was an organ donor gives us a little solace as at least we know his death wasn’t in vain.”