Two Scottish dads saved thanks to Organ Donor Register

Emotional day...for Graham Fraser who was able to walk his daughter Stacie down the aisle the day after he left hospital, having had his third liver transplant.
Emotional day...for Graham Fraser who was able to walk his daughter Stacie down the aisle the day after he left hospital, having had his third liver transplant.

During Organ Donation Week, which runs from September 4 to September 10, Julie Currie speaks to two Scottish dads whose lives have been saved by organ donors.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Graham Fraser walked his daughter Stacie down the aisle last May.

Proud dad...Malcolm Armstrong is now a dad of five with everything to live for. A police constable, he had a successful kidney transplant in June 2005 while still a probationary officer.

Proud dad...Malcolm Armstrong is now a dad of five with everything to live for. A police constable, he had a successful kidney transplant in June 2005 while still a probationary officer.

For Graham was released from hospital just the day before, having had his third liver transplant in 13 years.

Most of the guests didn’t think he was going to be able to watch Stacie and Lee Simpson tie the knot.

So it was a huge surprise ... and no-one was happier about it than Graham.

The 51-year-old, from New Pitsligo in Aberdeenshire, said: “Only close family knew that I was home and we were all in tears when I walked into the lounge and saw Stacie in her wedding dress.

Make it count...sign up for the Register this Organ Donation Week but make sure your family knows about your decision.

Make it count...sign up for the Register this Organ Donation Week but make sure your family knows about your decision.

“We got to the church and the piper, who was a friend of Stacie’s, nearly couldn’t play for crying!

“It was a really emotional day but one that we were all delighted I didn’t miss.”

Missing the big day was something the family had prepared for though.

Indeed, Stacie (27) told her dad she’d rather have him well for 20 years than worry about just one day.

Her brother Michael (26) had been drafted in to do the honours – in case Graeme couldn’t make it.

And there was every chance that he might not.

Graham was first placed on the transplant list in March 1997, after being diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis – scarring of the bowel ducts.

He needed a new liver and duly got one in June 1998. Sadly, his body rejected the organ and a compassionate plea for a new liver went out right across the UK.

In September that year, he had a second transplant which proved a huge success.

But in 2015 the PSC came back, affecting his liver once again and Graham and his wife Ann had to face the prospect of another transplant.

At the start of 2016, after discussing it with the family, Graham was placed back on the transplant list.

He said: “We had discussed me coming off the list for a few weeks before Stacie’s big day but she was adamant that I didn’t.

“The phone call came in April – I got a call on my mobile at 6am and I thought if it’s one of these PPI chancers I’ll crack up!

“But it was someone I knew from Edinburgh Royal saying they had a possible match – my stomach was immediately in knots.

“It’s mixed emotions when you get that call. You’ve got no choice but to put your life in their capable hands, knowing how good they are.

“I think it’s much more difficult for your family – you don’t know much about it but they’re awake and worrying about you the whole time.”

Due to his previous transplants, the family knew this latest operation would be more challenging.

“Due to the scarring from the previous operations and the fact my liver had created its own wee veins, there was a danger of internal bleeding,” explained Graham.

“So they had to do the operation in two stages. I was on the table for about 13 hours, then on life support for two days before they completed the surgery.

“I don’t remember much about it but it was hard for Ann, the kids and my mother, Maureen Hendry.”

Luckily, Graham bounced back quickly and was back on the ward within one week.

As the days counted down to Stacie’s wedding though, no-one was sure he was going to be out of hospital on time.

“I’d known one of the surgeons from my first op and they knew the kids and they really wanted to do what they could for us,” he said.

“Initially, I didn’t think I’d be out in time but the day before the wedding my bloods came back fine and they were happy to discharge me. It was great news for us all.”

And that meant that Graham was able to walk his only daughter down the aisle.

“Your daughter’s wedding day is always going to be special,” he said, “but that day was extra special.

“It was obviously just meant to be.

“There’s a massive back story to it too though – all the people who looked after me and, of course, the family who lost their loved one.

“No matter what you do, it will never be enough to pay back what they have given. I owe that person everything.

“It’s important people understand the huge difference the donor register can make. Anyone who joins can give the gift of life.”

A year down the road, Graham – who served his time as a compositor on the Johnston Press-owned Buchan Observer – is now back at work as an asset finance broker.

He’s still on around 11 anti-rejection tablets a day but is feeling “fantastic”.

Someone else who knows only too well the difference a new organ can make is police constable Malcolm Armstrong.

The 42-year-old from Airdrie, who works with Police Scotland’s traffic unit in Motherwell, had a kidney transplant in June 2005.

Malcolm’s life changed radically when he was diagnosed with Goodpasture’s Syndrome – a condition that caused the then fit 27-year-old dad of one to go into kidney failure.

Having worked with the police for 18 months, he was still on probation.

Initially, he had to receive dialysis three times a week in hospital but, to allow him to continue to work, he eventually ended up having a machine at home.

Malcolm said: “I just wanted to feel as normal as possible and working allowed me to do that.”

But in June that year, Malcolm got a call that changed his life.

“I was on my last night shift of seven and had just got there when my wife Michelle called,” he said. “They had a match and it was as good as they could have hoped for.”

The operation went well and Malcolm is now back fighting fit – going from 11 stone to 17!

The couple now have five children – Emily (15) who was just one when dad went through the op, Daniel (11), Rosie (10), Eve (8) and Ben (7).

Through work, Malcolm has since supported families who’ve been approached about organ donation.

He added: “When speaking with families going through it, I tell them about my experience to try to bring them a bit of comfort.

“If it wasn’t for the decision made by my donor and their family, I wouldn’t be here. I’m now a father of five and have a future.”

All shapes and sizes are welcome to join the Register

The We Need Everybody campaign for people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register started on August 14 and will run for seven weeks, culminating in Organ Donation Week from September 4 to September 10.

Recent statistics revealed that there are 4345 people in Scotland living with a transplant thanks to organ donors and their families. However, with one person dying every day in the UK while waiting on an organ transplant, the more people that join, the more lives can be saved.

Currently, only 45 per cent of the population in Scotland is on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

People of all ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities feature in the campaign, baring almost all to highlight that anyone can be an organ donor.

Continuing to increase registrations remains vital, as less than one per cent of deaths in Scotland happen in circumstances where the person is actually able to donate their organs.

During Organ Donation Week, people are being encouraged to share their organ donation decision, as this remains fundamental to relatives honouring their wishes.

If families don’t know, it can mean even more heartache at an already horrendous time.

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit organdonationscotland.org.