A time for giving

New Year will always be a specially hard time for us...

Published by: Laura Hinton and Victoria Williams
Published on: 27 December 2012

Party poppers exploded as we welcomed in the New Year. Grabbing my daughter Sally, 17, I swirled her around the dance floor.
‘Happy New Year,' she smiled. But the poor thing was suffering.
A few minutes later, she was sat back down, blowing her nose. She'd had a cold all Christmas.
‘Come on,' I said, feeling sorry for her. ‘Lets go home.'
Sally was usually bubbly, but she'd felt so rough, she'd been happy enough to come with us to a dinner and dance while her sister Laura, 21, went out partying.
And, a few days later, Sally came home early from college.
‘I've skipped travel and tourism,' she coughed. ‘I feel terrible.' Sally loved that course. I could see her working abroad. She'd been on holiday to Turkey with her mates and loved it.
‘You poor thing,' I said, wincing when I felt her hot forehead. ‘Get yourself to bed.' As she trudged up the stairs, our terriers Poppy and Tilly followed behind.
The following night, Sally was just as poorly. I'd called an out-of-hours doctor, but he'd said it was just the flu. By the time morning rolled round again, Sally was being sick. She couldn't even stand her beloved dogs. ‘Give me some space,' she sighed, pushing Poppy away.
‘That's not like her,' frowned my husband, Bobby, 56.
Worried, I rang my GP again. But he said the paracetamol would start to work soon.
‘What a rubbish start to the New Year for her,' Laura said at dinner that night.
But, just then, we heard Sally let out an almighty scream.
I thundered up the stairs.
‘What's wrong?' I panted. But Sally was just standing there in her pyjamas. She was mumbling jibberish and was staring straight through me.
‘Call an ambulance, Laura,' I ordered. Then I gently took hold of Sally.
‘Come on, love,' I said softly, helping her onto the bed. But she started thrashing her arms and legs about. ‘Please, calm down,' I begged. But, by the time the paramedics arrived, Sally's eyes were rolling back in her head and she was shaking from head to toe.
‘I thought she just had a cold,' I wept, as they carried her into the ambulance.
I hopped in, too, while Bobby followed behind.
At the hospital, Sally was rushed off for scans. ‘I feel so utterly helpless,' I sobbed, pacing the corridors.
Soon, we were summoned into a waiting room. ‘Sally's on a life support machine,' the doctor said. I gripped Bobby's arm.
‘I'm so sorry,' he continued. ‘Sally has meningitis. She's brain dead. You should prepare yourself for the worst.' At that moment, it was like the world ended.
I could see the doctor talking, but I couldn't take it all in. Her brain had swollen, causing the odd behaviour.
But the word meningitis was still hanging in the air. ‘W-what?' I gasped. ‘Meningitis?' She'd had no rash, and I only imagined babies getting this disease, not healthy young women.
It was as if it was happening to someone else. But when I saw her on the life support machine, reality hit. Her chest lifted up and down, through no choice of its own.
‘I don't understand,' I cried. My mind drifted back to just a week before when we'd been celebrating Christmas at my parents.
‘Extra potatoes, Sally?' my mum Sheila, 73, asked.
‘Yes please,' she'd grinned. ‘You can never have too much food at Christmas!'
‘Some of us can,' Laura teased, poking her sister's tummy.
‘Whatever!' Sally had snapped back. She always had to have the last word!
I'd have done anything now to hear my girls bickering again. Instead, Sally was slowly slipping away from us.
The anaesthetist walked in then, scattering my thoughts.
‘Would you consider organ donation?' she gently asked us.
‘No!' I gasped, horrified. ‘I can't even think about that.' My beautiful little girl was not being cut up.
‘Just think about this,' Laura whispered through her tears. ‘If Sally needed an organ...'
Looking across at Bobby, I saw he was considering it, too.
It was quite surreal, discussing it with Sally lying there, but then she wasn't truly alive anymore.
‘You're right, sweetheart,' I said, gripping Laura's hand.
If it was the other way round and my daughter could be saved, then I would have done anything - absolutely anything - to get that vital organ.
So, with a shaking hand, I signed the consent form.
‘We'll take her to theatre in the morning,' a nurse said.
‘Thank you,' I smiled, weakly. It meant we had the night left with her.
As I stared at my beautiful girl, her hair splayed across the pillow, she suddenly looked like that cheeky little girl she'd once been.
‘Remember how she used to hide her Barbie dolls when her mates came round?' Bobby said, suddenly. He was thinking about a lifetime of memories, too.
‘Yeah,' I smiled, sadly. ‘She always wanted them to think she was a tomboy.' All night, I held her hand to my cheek, kissing it as tears slid between her fingers.
‘We love you,' I whispered. Then, early the next morning, a nurse came in. ‘It's time to take her to theatre,' she said, gently. It was time to say goodbye forever...
‘Bye, darling,' I sobbed, kissing her cheek. It was just a week into the New Year, yet I felt like we'd lived 100 years since Christmas. As we packed the decorations away at home, I knew that we were packing up a chapter of our lives, too. We were about to start a painful new one without our daughter...
A few days later, we visited her at the funeral parlour. I had to see her scar, so gently pulled down her top. It was so small, just ran down her chest.
‘She's still my Sally,' I whispered, so relieved.
I'd been scared she'd look butchered, but everything had been done with such dignity.
After her cremation, my grief left me feeling hollow and empty. There were constant reminders of Sally everywhere. Walking past the stereo one day, I saw The Wanted's CD on the side and broke down. Sally had been obsessed with them. She'd seen them perform a month before she died.
‘I want my very own Max!' she swooned, afterwards.
Breaking down, I realised just how much Sally would miss in life. She was only 17 and had so much ahead of her.
Despite my grief, I took comfort from the fact that her organs had been donated.
And, just a few months on, the organ donor team told us that Sally had saved three lives with her liver, pancreas and kidneys. Then we received a card from the donor who received Sally's liver.
It's so wonderful you've been able to do this for us, he wrote. I'm now able to carry on a normal life with my family.
Due to patient confidentially, we couldn't find out much more, but it was enough. ‘I always wanted to hear from them,' I sobbed to Bobby, clutching the letter to my chest. ‘Now I know we've done the right thing.'
I imagined this person with their family truly living again. That was all thanks to Sally.
I can't quite let go of my daughter yet. Her ashes are still in a little urn in our bedroom. One day we might scatter them, but for now, I keep her close.
Christmas and New Year will always be tough. She'll have been gone two years in January.
Last New Year, the three of us had a quiet night in together with our thoughts. It's still hard to believe that Sally is gone, but knowing she saved three strangers' lives is some comfort. That will always be her legacy.

• To become an organ donor, visit

Anne Glendinning, 47, Carlisle, Cumbria