Emma Witty was just 19 when she died. Her death saved six people’s lives. Catherine Scott meets her grieving mum and boyfriend, determined that her memory lives on.
Emma Witty had her life ahead of her.
In the first year of her photography course, she was full of fun, attractive and loved by everyone who met her. A proud Yorkshirewoman, she was compassionate, with a deep love of animals, and supported many charities.
But just over a year ago, at the age of 19, she suffered a stroke and died nine days later in hospital. The day she died 100 of her friends gathered in Leeds’s Millennium Square to pay tribute to her and more than 350 attended her funeral.
And even after death, this caring individual made sure that others were helped. She donated her organs which saved six lives, including a one year old baby, and the sight of four more.
“After she died I was at the hospital with Emma’s mum and dad and the doctor asked if we thought Emma would want to donate her organs,” says her boyfriend, Oli ‘Nobby’ Dobson, who discovered Emma collapsed at her home in Bramley in June last year.
“Her mum and dad looked at me and asked what I thought. I said of course she would. She would want to do what she could to help others. That’s what type of person she was.”
Emma died when an aneurysm in her brain ruptured, causing a bleed similar to a stroke called a subarachnoid haemorrhage.
Emma’s mum, Catherine Gregson, became worried when her daughter didn’t answer her phone.
“I was staying at my mum’s as she had been poorly. I kept phoning Emma as she told me that she was going to be at home.”
At 2am Catherine got a phone call saying she had collapsed and was in St James’s Hospital, Leeds.
When Catherine got to the hospital she was warned that Emma’s condition was serious, and they were transferring her to Leeds General Infirmary where they diagnosed the aneurysm.
“She came round and we all thought that she was going to be fine,” continues Catherine.
“She started to talk, although she was very confused.”
But within days Emma’s condition started to deteriorate and she died on June 20.
For Catherine, knowing her daughter’s death has helped others brings mixed emotions.
“While it is difficult, it does give me a lot of comfort to know she has helped save so many lives and that her eyes are out there still seeing and her heart is somewhere still beating.”
Emma’s heart was given to a young woman in her 20s, a man in his 50s received her pancreas and one of her kidneys, her lungs and other kidney went to men in their 60s , while her liver was split between a man and a one year-old girl.
“We were told that the little girl was in desperate need of the transplant and her dad was going to give part of his liver. Emma dying meant that the little girl’s life was saved and her dad didn’t have to go through a potentially dangerous operation.”
Four months ago Catherine got a letter from a man who had received Emma’s lungs.
“He wanted to thank us and to thank the person who donated their organs to help him,” says Catherine, who has two sons, Sam, 30 and Thomas, 28. “He has two children and he said his youngest daughter was very sad that someone had to die to help her dad. His lungs only functioned 25 per cent and he got breathless just standing still. Since the operation he has gone back to work and is even starting running again. I have read and reread his letter and it does bring some comfort.
“It would be nice to hear from the other people, but I do understand how difficult it is.”
Now, a year on, she is determined to make sure Emma’s memory lives on. They have started the Emma Witty Award where the best photography student at Leeds City College receives £100 in Emma’s name. And she is raising awareness of the desperate need for organ donation and funds for the Stroke Association.
Nobby has launched an appeal, “4000ft to Freedom”, in reference to one of Emma’s favourite songs. The campaign kicked off in July when he and four members of his band, Leeds-based China Shop Bull, climbed the Three Peaks in 24 hours carrying all their equipment – including a drum kit – and playing one of Emma’s favourite songs, Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the top.
“Emma was really into music and had an unusual taste in bands for someone who was only 19. We did that as a tribute to her and a way of raising money for the Stoke Association and awareness of organ donation.”
The challenge raised more than £2,000. A tribute concert was also held in Emma’s honour and Nobby plans to repeat it every year on her birthday.
“There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think about and miss Emma,” says Nobby, who is a teacher. “She touched so many people. The fact she has saved so many people’s lives and helped four people to see makes me feel that her life wasn’t completely wasted.”
Catherine has been overwhelmed by the support from Emma’s friends.
“I have heard so many stories about how so many people loved her. She was such an incredible girl. She was always so positive, I don’t ever remember her being miserable and she was always thinking about other people and animals of course.
“We just want to make people aware how important it is to carry an organ donor card and to make your loved ones aware of your wishes.”
To donate in Emma’s memory visit www.justgiving.com/4000ft-to-Freedom/