Why Gill Fargher is supporting our eye donation awareness campaign

02 April 19

written by:

Press Office

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Gill Fargher on her wedding day to Tristan Lewis

Gill Fargher is supporting a Fight for Sight campaign to raise awareness of the importance of eye donation and the current shortfall in corneas for transplant [1]. The campaign follows a YouGov poll* which has found that eyes are the organ Brits would be the least likely to donate after their death, when asked to choose from a list [2].

A staggering 44% of us declared eyes as the body part they would least like to donate when selecting from a list of organs. Only 4% said the same for their heart and lungs and 2% for their kidney or liver. Furthermore, just 42% said they would consent to donate the eyes of a loved one after they died.

Gill is a GP of thirty years from Rochester. Her husband Tristan tragically died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest in 2015. Gill knew that Tristan wished for his organs and tissues to be used after his death and was able to give consent for his organs and tissues to be donated, including both of his corneas.

Gill said: “My husband Tris was so full of life, his death was completely unexpected and a huge shock. He was in intensive care for twelve days following a cardiac arrest and I had to make a decision about whether to donate his organs. It really helped that Tris and I had discussed organ donation before and that I knew what he wanted. I would urge others to have the conversation with loved ones today about organ donation. 

My life was shattered but I know that because of Tris, two people have had their sight restored and others have had their lives transformed too, and that is a source of great pride and comfort. Tris saved the lives of two people by donating his kidneys and has transformed the lives of ten others by donating his corneas and tissues.” 

Gill now helps raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation and Chairs the Organ Donation Committee at Medway NHS Foundation Trust. 

Gill added: “Family consent is sought before organ and tissue donation can actually take place and families will refuse to give consent in 40% of potential donors if they are unaware of their loved one's wishes. That is why it’s really important to let your family know of your wishes, whether you are on the organ donation register or not. I am so grateful that Tris and I had talked about organ donation and I knew that in giving consent for organ and tissue donation, I was acting with his permission and his wishes”. 

The Organ Donation (deemed consent) Act, also known as Max and Keira’s Law, was given Royal Assent on 15 March 2019 - meaning that from Spring 2020, all adults in England will be considered potential organ donors unless they choose to opt out or are in an excluded group. Family members will also be able to continue to refuse consent on behalf of their loved ones after their death. 

While the new law is good news for the overall organ donation pool, Fight for Sight is concerned that its research indicates people could opt out of donating their eyes, either themselves or on behalf of a loved one.

Fight for Sight is raising awareness of the life transforming effect of an eye donation, which can restore independence for thousands of people through a corneal transplant. The cornea is the transparent ‘window’ at the front of the eye and it can be damaged in a number of eye conditions, with a serious impact on sight.

Read more about our research

What should I do? 

If you want your eyes to give the gift of sight after your death, make sure your loved ones know your wishes. Also make sure you have registered your wishes on the organ donation register.

Who can benefit from a corneal transplants? 

Approximately 4,000 corneal transplants are undertaken each year [3]. There are a number of people who can benefit from a corneal transplant, including those who suffer from corneal dystrophies (such as keratoconus). Corneal dystrophies are a group of genetic, often progressive eye disorders, in which abnormal material often accumulates in the clear (transparent) outer layer of the eye (cornea). Others who might need a corneal transplant include those who have experienced severe bacterial infections, which can result in damage to the cornea. Trauma to the eye, including burns, can also warrant corneal transplants in some cases. 

Rabia is a mother of six living with keratoconus who has benefited from a corneal transplant.

Read Rabia’s story

 

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2024 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19-20 March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[1]. NHS Blood and Transplant’s Eye Bank Manager (April 2019), there are currently 279 corneas in the eye banks. Their target is to have around 350 at all times, in order to meet need of 100 corneas transplanted per week and they aim for 10 eye donors per day. This is a 21% shortfall.
[2]. Participants were asked to choose from a list of organs: heart, eyes, liver, kidney and lungs
[3]. https://nhsbtdbe.blob.core.windows.net/umbraco-assets-corp/4954/cornea_allocation_policy.pdf (at the time of writing: 2017)

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