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Contact Story: An outcome not to be denied

Celebrating our donor son Ben and David his recipient

The following letter was received from my son’s kidney recipient:

"Firstly I need to say how much I regret not being able to, either, refer to you directly or meet with you to express my true feelings.

"Perhaps I could tell you a little about myself in order that you may have some idea of my background as to the type of person that your family has given a new lease on life. I am a fifty year old married man living in a southern suburb of Sydney with my nursing sister wife and two adult children. I suffer from a condition known as poly Cystic Kidney Disease, a hereditary disease that causes large cysts to replace healthy tissue on kidneys over a number of years. This can lead to a complete breakdown of the kidney function which then leads to a permanent course of treatment called Dialysis involving physical connection to a dialysis machine from 5 to 6 hours, three times every week, to cleanse the blood of impurities and to take away surplus fluid. In other words, to act as a normal functioning kidney.

"I was first diagnosed some 16 years ago and started dialysis in 1990. At that time I was employed in the Tourism Industry as Marketing Manager of a coach tour company. This continued until March last when, along with many others my age, I was retrenched.

"The wonderful gift your family has given to me has opened the way to a new life that I value and hold precious EVERY day. Your grievous loss and selfless decision has enabled me to look forward to amore complete and fulfilling way of life. It is now just over two months since the operation and I'm told and feel that all goes well for a good recovery and continued well being.

"There seems so little to offer for such a fantastic opportunity but when all other words are swept away, only two remain forever - THANK YOU!

God bless you,

David A humble, grateful and healthy recipient

This letter was received three months after Ben’s passing on 18th May 1993 and was our first contact with Ben’s kidney recipient. The letter reinforced the assurance that Elayne and I had done the correct thing at the time of Ben’s passing.

Although nothing or no one will ever replace our son, just knowing about the success of his donation was very comforting.

The letter also gave us both a glimmer of hope that we may possibly one day have direct contact with one or both of Ben’s recipients.

To see first hand what Ben’s Gifts of Life had achieved and to know a little about the lives of Ben’s recipients both before and after transplantation.

As part of my healing process, I began to write of Ben’s life covering his ten brief years with us, as something his big sister Kyla could remember of her little brother. After three months of writing and many boxes of tissues, the 42-page document was finished. I then felt that a portion of his story had to be told, which resulted in Reader’s Digest publishing Ben’s Story as their lead story in the October 1995 edition.

During this same period, I became much involved with the Red Cross, who at the time were responsible for organ donation and transplantation coordination. From this exposure, the Medical Observer, a monthly journal for local Doctors, contacted us to contribute to an article titled “Who Owns Your Body.”

Within the article, I referred to how much it meant to us in receiving a letter from Ben’s kidney recipient David. Eighteen months later, Elayne received a phone call from a Margaret Ridoutt, who believed that Ben was her husband David’s kidney donor. She had just visited her local GP and read the article in the magazine while awaiting her appointment. Evidently, they knew David’s donor was from a young boy in Sydney named Ben.

With the knowledge of our surname, we were the 42nd "G. Harrison" in the phone book that they rang.

It was a very emotional time for Elayne and I. David did not want to impose if we did not want to make further contact but immediately we both realised that we were seeking the same thing: closure, and the need to meet.

Two days later David and I meet on the steps of the Sydney Town Hall. This was the start of a great friendship between the Harrisons and the Ridoutts that carried through to David’s sad passing sixteen years later.

During this time, we met regularly - at least once or twice a year; sometimes during the National and World Transplant Games or when we were both invited to promote Organ Donation Week.

Graham Harrison speaking

At the 1997, 11th World Transplant Games in Sydney, I was invited to speak on behalf of the Donor Families on the Opera House steps. Following my speech, I had the privilege of introducing David to sing “What a Wonderful World,” which was a truly fitting conclusion to the Opening Ceremony as there was not a dry eye among the 6,000 attendees.

Graham & Elayne with David and his Snooker Gold medal

While at the Wollongong National Transplant Games, Elayne and I had the honour of presenting a Gold Medal to David for his win in the Snooker Championships.

We both were also involved in the ABC’s Australian Story (which can be viewed on the DFA website at Latest/Video). Probably our greatest claim to fame was a 60 Minutes exposé with Liz Hayes involving David and I having been brought together due to Ben.

This all came to an end when sadly David passed away from multiple cancer’s brought on by his anti-rejection medication.

Margaret said of David that he never regretted a single day of his extra sixteen years, regardless of the many medial trials he went through during his last five years, because he was fortunate enough to enjoy five grandchildren during this period - and the friendship of the Harrison’s as an extended family.

I had the honour of speaking at David’s funeral, which was a very sad time for Elayne and I. Not for the reason that the last physical link with Ben was now gone, but for the simple fact that we were saying farewell to a good mate.

We also received a letter the parents of young twelve year old Melbourne girl who received Ben’s heart and lungs just before the first Christmas after his passing.

It read:

"In May this year, you had a very difficult decision to make, at what was a very sad time for your family. We now, as a family, would like to take this opportunity to say a very special Thank You to you for helping to save our child's life. This life saving transplant came just in time. Now six month's later, our child - for the first time ever - is able to live a normal life, attending school every day, playing many different sports and making the most of the second chance that you have made possible.

"Thank you for being very special people, to help make this happen for our child.'

We have written to them on two occasions and received further feedback from DonateLife that their young daughter was doing well, but that they did not wish to continue communicating, which was a little disappointing.

We can understand though, as parents they wished to be protective of their daughter. We have since had further feedback some years back that their daughter went onto university, married and had children. We are still hopeful that one day she may wish to make contact through DonateLife.

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