SUODA: A Society with a Message.

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Meet SUODA, Southampton University’s Organ Donation Awareness Society. We speak to Amy Hearst, the founder and president of this newly affiliated society. 

We’re asked to give on a regular basis. ‘Can you spare any change?’… ‘Could you cover my shift tomorrow?’… ‘Can I borrow your notes?’ Each ‘ask’ carries a different weight. Each answer bears a different consequence. Often, without a second thought, we do give… safe in the knowledge that we’ve done our bit to help.

… although 96% of us believe that organ donation is the right thing to do, only 30% are actually prepared to do what they think is right.

But when it comes to giving our organs we may be reluctant. Signing the organ donor register means entertaining the idea that one day we won’t be here any more. It’s a sombre thought. Perhaps this is why although 96% of us believe that organ donation is the right thing to do, only 30% are actually prepared to do what they think is right. When it comes to thinking about our own personal relationship with organ donation, we suddenly become unsure. I joined the register three years ago when I applied for my driving licence online. It was as simple as ticking boxes. But before I ticked the final box, I hesitated.

Why did I hesitate? It’s not as if I’ll be needing my organs once my heart stops beating. Would I have hesitated to accept a donated organ if I needed a transplant to save my life, or if a loved one needed one to save theirs? Of course not. I’m a firm believer in supporting any means that can grant someone a second chance at life.  I’ve given countless times to cancer research charities. So why did I pause when it came to organ donation?

SUODA (Southampton University Organ Donation Awareness) is a newly affiliated society this year that seeks to end this tendency to hesitate. The society wants to dispel any myths or misconceptions about organ donation by giving students all the information they need. Amy Hearst, the president and founder of the society, wants to ensure that students know exactly how they can change lives through registering:

“Organ donation is not something that I gave a lot of thought to until a few years ago when my sister suffered liver failure. She was 18. She was taken by air ambulance from Belfast to King’s College Hospital in London and put to the top of waiting list for transplant. She was fortunate enough to undergo a successful liver transplant after a three-day wait. Unfortunately, there are people suffering for years with chronic illnesses, waiting for transplants because there is such a shortage of available organs”.

Amy’s sister Cara was suffering from Wilson’s disease, an inherited disorder which affects the body’s ability to metabolise copper. If diagnosed early Wilson’s disease is treatable, but in Cara’s case the disease had gone undetected, resulting in liver failure; the only treatment available was transplantation.

Although difficult, the experience was incredibly healing for both Cara and the mother of the donor, allowing her to see how her son had given life to others.

Cara underwent her transplant in February 2009, while the UK suffered the heaviest snowfall in eighteen years. Cara’s anesthetist had to hike through the snow for the operation to go ahead. Despite these adversities, a match became available and Cara had her transplant.

There are strict guidelines regarding any communication between transplant recipients and donor families which mean that both parties do not know any personal details such as name or address. Cara sent an anonymous letter of thanks to the donor family through her transplant coordinator and after a year of correspondence, they finally met. This was the first time that a recipient and donor family had met in Scotland.  Although difficult, the experience was incredibly healing for both Cara and the mother of the donor, allowing her to see how her son had given life to others. Cara is currently doing well and is in the third year of her nursing degree.

Amy and Cara at the 2011 Transplant Games Ball in Belfast

Cara’s story however, doesn’t speak for all; she was one of the lucky ones. Currently over 10,000 people in the UK are awaiting a transplant. Of these, 1000 a year – that’s three people a day – will die waiting. SUODA aims to get students involved in raising awareness and to encourage more of us to join the register. Amy explains why she decided to set up the society at Southampton:

“It wasn’t until a friend at St Andrew’s told me she had joined an Organ Donation Society at the university that I thought I could do something to promote organ donation. I contacted the society president and asked what sort of things they did. It was a new idea being funded and tested by NHS Blood and Transplant in Scotland, to raise awareness amongst students. There isn’t a lot of funding available but I thought I could start one here at Southampton because all we really need are interested people, a room to meet and some decent ideas!”

But what if you’ve already signed the register? Where does SUODA fit in? Amy says that the society is for anyone and everyone. Whether you want to find out more yourself, or simply want to encourage others to do so, SUODA’s here to help. “Medical students and students of any of the allied health professions may find the society interesting and relevant but no matter what your course, we hope that membership will be worthwhile.”

I think the thing that we as a group need to focus on is education, the more information people have about how to become a donor, what is involved and the life saving benefits that it offers, the better!

Amy Hearst
SUODA President

As a new society SUODA is still finding its feet. Its current focus is on planning a fundraising and awareness event with the help of RAG, which will take place before Christmas. “I think the thing that we as a group need to focus on is education, the more information people have about how to become a donor, what is involved and the life saving benefits that it offers, the better!”

The society meets on Monday evenings to discuss the importance of organ donation and ways to promote awareness. SUODA welcomes debate and encourages any student to attend, no matter what your stance on organ donation. It’s not all serious though, and trips to the Stags after the weekly meet are part of the fun. “As well as the serious side, we want to make membership an enjoyable and sociable part of your week!”.

The sisters at the 2011 Transplant Games

If you think SUODA might be for you, or you’d like more information, you can pop along to one of the weekly meets or simply ‘like’ the society’s facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/OrganDonationAwarenessSuoda 

To join the register visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

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