Vicki Winmill became the first organ donor to be processed at the Grafton Base Hospital. Credit: The Winmill family.
Vicki Winmill became the first organ donor to be processed at the Grafton Base Hospital. Credit: The Winmill family. Please credit: The Winmill famil

Saving a life: Grandmother's 'gift' creates medical history

IT IS not often a standing ovation is observed at a funeral.

But then again Vicki Winmill was no ordinary woman. The great grandmother from Ulmarra was a history-maker. She was a hero. She was an organ donor.

Vicki created a moment of medical history when she became the first person to have their organs processed at the Grafton Base Hospital.

The 71-year-old donated her kidneys and eyes after a brain aneurysm tragically took her from her loving family last month.

"It makes you feel very proud," Vicki's husband Paul told Seniors News. "We feel pretty proud knowing she was the first one.

"Somebody had to lead the way and I couldn't think of a better person than Vicki."

So while tears were shed as family and friends said a final farewell on a beautiful day on the banks of the Clarence River, they were also falling at a hospital bedside across the country as somebody was given a second-chance at life.

"Lots of people benefit from organ donation," Director of Organ and Tissue Donations for Northern NSW, Doctor Michael Lindley-Jones said.

"Most donations result in between five or 10 people having their lives changed through organ donations and quite often their lives are saved having a new organ.

"Universally, they're all grateful and humbled by the gift they have received."

Dr Lindley-Jones said the act of donation could also have a "positive" impact on the grieving family, a point proven as Paul described the mixed emotions of losing his wife.

"I would recommend organ donation to anybody," Paul said. "If they can save a life do it!

"It will help the (family) through the grieving part, knowing that their organs are helping somebody else. It makes the grieving a little easier."

Vicki's gift of life was a major accomplishment for the Grafton Base Hospital and its staff, being "one of the smallest hospitals in Australia" to carry out the procedure.

And Dr Lindley-Jones hailed the hospital's herculean efforts to offer a donor service to the Clarence Valley.

"It's a real testament to the hospital that they managed to pull this off," Dr Lindley-Jones said.

"It is pretty rare that a level four intensive care should be an organ donation and should support organ donations, but Grafton is an exceptional place in that the staff there operate well and above what would be considered their role delineation.

"I think it's a positive that people in Grafton now have access to organ donation and can become organ donors if that is their wish."

And the staff had their work cut out for them after entering a race against time to deliver Vicki's organs to the intended recipients.

"Everything has to fall into place," Dr Lindley-Jones said. "It's a very complex process doing the matching of the organ to the recipient and getting the organ to the right place at the right time.

"So whilst one family is grieving and the lights are being turned off in one operating theatre, at the same time there will be several recipients who are receiving a phone call, and for them it's an amazing phone call, a life-changing phone call, and one that they will be apprehensive but excited to receive."

Paul said the hospital were "absolutely fantastic" in helping the family through the traumatic events following Vicki's death, and predicted more people will now be signing on to save lives now his beloved wife had laid the path.

"There was one lady there, Anne, she just followed you all the way through from beginning to the very end," Paul said. "Any questions you had, she was absolutely brilliant.

"So the way they conducted themselves was the most professional I'd ever seen and very caring.

"I've spoken to a few people since and they had no idea what you can actually do as far as organ donation goes, and what it does. They're in the dark!

"(But) it will save quite a lot of lives now that people are recognising you can be a donor in Grafton."

Dr Lindley-Jones urged people who are thinking of becoming an organ donor to visit the website - www.donatelife.gov.au - and then have an honest conversation with their family about their after-death wishes.

"Firstly, have a think about the amount of good that it does to so many," Dr Lindley-Jones said.

"The second thing is, that for many people, their families feel very positive about the fact that, at a difficult time, that they have been able to help somebody.

"And, lastly, if you would be prepared to accept an organ, would you be prepared to donate one as well?"


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