Cathy’s sacrifice helps two to live
Two people who were waiting for organ transplants are now walking around fit and well, after 56-year-old care worker Cathy Boydell Sheldon donated her kidneys and heart valves. In Organ Donation Week (18-24 September), Cathy’s sister Anne Sewell told her heart-breaking story.
Anne Sewell still cannot believe her sister Cathy is no longer here - although it’s more than six months since Cathy died in Barnsley Hospital after a decision was made to turn off her life support. The sisters, both divorced, shared a house in Dodworth and were the best of friends.
They also shared an almost crushing burden of bad luck, only getting through it because of their close bond and sense of humour. Cathy was an amputee spending much of her time in a wheelchair. After developing diabetes complications her leg had been amputated below the knee.
In addition, the two sisters had lost their other sister Marie, aged 63, and their brother Peter Boydell, 58, to heart attacks. Peter had previously undergone a liver transplant which was thought to have given him an extra ten years of life.
The family also have an inherited condition called haemochromatosis, where iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years. This ‘iron overload’ can damage the liver, joints, pancreas and heart.
Anne, 65, said: “Cathy never let all this get to her though. She never looked her age, was never poorly, not one for calling the doctor and she could be a real joker. She worked for Barnsley Social Services in a children’s home in Carlton. She’d been there 34 years with 32 of those working night shifts. She was working right up to nine months before she died.
“We were very close and I used to take her out in her wheelchair.”
At the beginning of February this year, Cathy got a cold and was complaining of shortness of breath. When her wheezing got worse, an ambulance was called. Anne said: “The problem was the oxygen level in her lungs but she didn’t seem so poorly then on the Monday. She was talking and laughing and joking when she got into hospital and well enough to have a meal on Tuesday.
“They put her on oxygen. A consultant came and said Cathy couldn’t breathe properly on her own. By Wednesday she was on life support. They tried everything but she had pneumonia. They decided to take her off life support and it took an hour and 40 minutes for her to take her last breath. It was horrendous.”
Anne and Cathy had talked about organ donation previously. Anne said: “Cathy had signed up to the donor register and I’ve had a donor card since the 1970s. I knew she would never have wanted to come back home and be hooked up to an oxygen machine.
“We also always said ‘don’t bring me back’ if we were in a vegetative state. I just told the donor team ‘she wouldn’t have wanted her organs to go to waste’.”
Cathy’s funeral was at St Helen’s Church in Monk Bretton in February. Anne said: “Now I am the only one left out of four siblings. I still cannot believe Cathy was so seriously ill. Even now I’m not sure what happened.
“I’ve since had cards from the two people who benefitted from Cathy’s organ donation and I replied. I miss her so much.”
- If you want to be an organ donor after you die, it's really important that you talk to your loved ones and make sure they understand and support your organ donation decision. You can also register your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register website: www.organdonation.nhs.uk