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Organ donation law changes to 'opt-out' system today as Margate paramedic speaks of life-saving liver transplant

A paramedic from Kent was forced to face an awful reality after being told she would die without an emergency liver transplant.

Doctors told Catherine Foad-Smith, of Dane Park, Margate, that complications surrounding her chronic liver disease would kill her without the life-saving operation.

The 35-year-old said: "I was told that I was going into hospital either until I died or got a transplant.

"It was terrifying and it wasn't as well publicised as it is now so I didn't have a clue what was going to happen or how long it could take."

Having been diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis at the age of 18, Ms Foad-Smith suffered with low immunity and had keep a close eye on her health.

But after falling ill with a cold in December 2015, her health quickly declined and her liver went into complete failure.

She said: "It hadn't really sunk in, but then I told my dad I needed to go on the transplant list and that's when it really hit me."

The 'opt out' system is also known as 'Max and Keira's law'
The 'opt out' system is also known as 'Max and Keira's law'

Luckily for the paramedic, she did not have to wait a long time for the transplant team to find her a donor.

In May 2016, Ms Foad-Smith got the call that a donor was available. She had the life-saving operation the next day.

She said: "I'm one of the absolutely lucky ones, I waited four-and-a-half months which is nothing in the grand scheme of things."

Ms Foad-Smith's liver donor was alive but on life support and although donors are kept anonymous the service allows recipients to send a letter to the family.

Feeling so grateful to the donor that saved her life, she decided she would write to the family to express her gratitude.

The law is now changing to an opt-out donor system
The law is now changing to an opt-out donor system

She said: "It took me six months to write the letter - it was an incredibly hard letter to write but I'm glad I did it.

"Without the transplant system I wouldn't be here."

Ms Foad-Smith is now a qualified paramedic working for the South East Coast Ambulance Service but is self-quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although she was lucky enough to have been found a donor quickly, the fate of many others across the county is much worse due to a shortage of available donations.

There are more than 6,000 people who are currently waiting for an organ in the UK and three people on the waiting list die everyday.

People will now automatically be considered for organ donation unless they opt out or are in an excluded group
People will now automatically be considered for organ donation unless they opt out or are in an excluded group

To combat this, the law is changing to try and support more people in desperate need of a transplant.

From today, 20 May 2020, all adults in England will be considered for organ donation unless they have opted out or are part of an excluded group.

Previously you had to opt in to register yourself as a potential donor but it is hoped the new system will make transplant organs more readily and quickly available.

The Organ Donation Act is known as Max and Keira’s law, in honour of a boy who received a heart transplant and the girl who donated it.

Ms Foad-Smith hopes the law change will mean more people will get the help she received and hopes people will think carefully if they are considering opting out.

"It's going to give so many more people the opportunity to live..."

She said: "If you're willing to take one, you should be equally happy to give one.

"How would you feel if it was your mum, your daughter or friend who needed a transplant?

"It's going to give so many more people a second chance at life."

  • For more information on the change in organ donation laws, click here

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