Almost two years on from the tragic death of 15-year-old Olivia Glennie, her parents have spoken of their pride at her enduring legacy as an organ donor. Jonathan Brown reports.
From the moment he saw his daughter Olivia lying in a hospital bed, Alex Glennie knew she was gone.
The family had been dealt the horrific news that their beautiful, bright and popular 15-year-old had left their home, in Newsome, Huddersfield, in the early evening of Tuesday September 24 2013 to take her own life.
The Newsome High School pupil, who had told her parents she was going out to visit friends, was discovered near the river at Armitage Bridge Cricket Club, a favourite meeting place for her and her friends. An unfathomable tragedy.
A gregarious, outwardly happy teenager, it later emerged that Olivia, known to family and friends as Livvie, had been hiding negative feelings and insecurities from those she loved the most.
She was rushed to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit at Leeds General Infirmary, where she died of catastrophic brain injuries five days after leaving home.
When her family, mum and dad Diane and Alex, and sisters Laura and Lucy should have been celebrating Livvie’s 16th birthday, supporting her through her GCSEs and helping to plan her prom night, they were left facing the future without their beloved daughter and sister.
“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist. If you don’t get oxygen to your brain there’s no recovery,” Alex said.
“We thought there might be some hope but I knew deep down she was gone.
“She was taken to LGI and I said to the consultant, ‘let’s not beat about the bush, tell me how it is’.
“He asked if I had considered organ donation, and my world just fell apart right then.”
The Glennies, who are speaking out in support of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust’s YP-backed Be A Hero organ donation campaign, had returned from a family holiday in the USA a month earlier and celebrated daughter Lucy’s civil ceremony the weekend before the tragedy.
Almost two years on and Livvie’s premature passing has understandably left its mark on the family, with painful memories of their ordeal still as vivid as ever.
“It’s still a sore point the whole thing, it will never go away from me,” Alex said.
“It’s hard to comprehend. Everybody goes, but not like that. We will meet her again one day.
“The saddest moment was removing the tubes when we had to go.
“I brought her into this world and I wanted them to give me the decency to let her go.
“I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
Within hours of her death, the 53-year-old and his wife Diane somehow summoned the courage to give doctors the go ahead for Livvie’s organs to be donated – a decision that they were initially told had saved three lives.
A mum in her 20s received a kidney, a man in his 30s was also given a kidney and a 13-year-old girl had a lifesaving liver transplant thanks to Livvie.
Late last year, the family received more news from the NHS Blood and Transplant service that revealed the teenager’s pulmonary heart valve had also saved the life of a 34-year-old woman born with congenital heart problems.
Fittingly, after Livvie’s organ donation became more widely known, Alex and Diane were told by her close friends that she had spoken of her support for organ donation during science classes. Her wishes had been made a reality.
Alex said: “I would love to think that one day she would still be here but that’s never going to be.
“I think it’s great that what me and Di made has helped others and Livvie will live on and hopefully they will go on to have children, families of their own.
“I think she still lives in somebody else. There are thousands and thousands of people that have done this great deed but don’t get thanks for it, because they’re no longer here.”
He added that thoughts that the young recipient of Livvie’s liver will grow up thanks to the teenager offer the whole Glennie family some solace in knowing that she still has a future.
“It gives us comfort knowing that wherever we are we could potentially be walking past the 13-year-old girl who has received her liver and that means a lot to us,” Alex said.
Her legacy certainly lives on. Her friends still call at the family home and a series of fundraisers in memory of Livvie have raised thousands for the likes of the Sick Children’s Trust’s Eckersley House facility, in Leeds, for families of children being treated at LGI.
A VW show took place in her memory last year and a further memorial gig, organised by Livvie’s dad, is to be held at Holmfirth Picturedrome on June 4 next year.
The event will star tribute bands to the Arctic Monkeys and Green Day, the first and last bands she saw perform, and is hoped to raise £5,000 for the Family Donor Network, British Heart Foundation, Young Minds – a charity concerned with children and young people’s wellbeing and mental health – and the paediatric intensive care unit at LGI.
Memories of a little girl who blossomed into a young woman still burn bright – her selfless spirit always prominent in her family’s thoughts.
Alex, who is a building contracts manager, said: “Before she was two you could have a proper conversation with her.
“She wasn’t one of those solitary kids that don’t want to mingle, she was always in your face and wanted to know everything – like a reporter.
“Some things that she did made me think, ‘has she been here before?’.”
Supporting good causes and spreading Livvie’s message is something the Glennies take a day at a time, while they harbour hopes that one day they might meet some of the people who received her organs so that they can pass on her story.
Diane said: “We feel proud of the fact that we and especially Livvie have helped people to live on and that is a truly wonderful feeling, how could you not feel a sense of achievement that something so terrible for us has become something so wonderful for someone else?
“We feel more like it was the right and practical thing to do and it certainly has kept us going in our darkest days.”
And Diane has advice for anyone thinking about signing up to the donor register, urging families to talk about organ donation.
“We would definitely urge people to discuss their wishes on passing away. It seems a bit of a taboo subject but if the organs can be used, what a fantastic thing.
“Sign up for organ donation and read about the success rates and all the people that have had a second chance in life, there are many hundreds here in the Yorkshire region that are desperately waiting for transplants.”
As part of the Be A Hero campaign The YP is publishing the heartening stories of the everyday heroes who support lifesaving organ transplants, the brave families who agreed to organ donation in difficult circumstances as well as those of families facing the agonising wait for a transplant.
It comes after it emerged that last year only around 100 people donated their organs in Yorkshire, while almost 800 people in the county are waiting for a transplant. Nationally there are around 10,000 people waiting for a transplant, and of those three a day die waiting.
We’re urging Yorkshire residents to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register and become a hero.
To raise the profile of Be A Hero we’re also urging workplaces and communities to support the campaign through anything from putting up a Be A Hero poster to hosting a superhero day. You can even download a #BeAHero mask from the campaign website – leedsth.nhs.uk/be-a-hero – and tweet your superhero selfies to @YorkshirePost and @LTHTrust using the hashtag #BeAHero.
Supporters can also send #BeAHero messages of support to facebook.com/yorkshirepost.newspaper or send their tales of organ donation via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.