Rebecca Ali, from Hull, died suddenly at the age of 31, just a year after she underwent a double pancreas and kidney transplant. But this meant her family were granted an extra year with Rebecca, who donated her organs after her death in the hope that it could pass on this gift.
“Organ donation is the gift that keeps giving,” says sister Mina Thompson. “Without Becky’s transplant, we wouldn’t have been able to have that extra year with her.
“We knew straight away we would donate. That’s what Becky would have wanted. She received, she would have wanted to give back.
“Someone is living on in Becky’s memory. To know that person has extra time with their family, it means a lot.”
Rebecca, known as Becky to her family, had battled diabetes since the age of six, but had always struggled with the condition and had been in and out of hospital many times.
After the birth of her daughter Ella when she was 22, her condition had worsened. In January 2016, the family had been celebrating a birthday meal when Miss Ali complained of a headache.
Later that night, she had a brain haemorrhage. Rushed to intensive care, she was to be placed in an induced coma for two weeks, but when she woke she was warned she needed a transplant.
The young mother had faced a wait of a year-and-a-half for a transplant, undergoing dialysis three times a week.
But all the family’s hopes over a transformation following transplant had been dashed when Miss Ali’s body rejected it.
Just a year after her transplant, she was hospitalised for three months, put back on dialysis and once again on the waiting list for another transplant.
On the day she was due to return home, her sister got a phone call from the hospital doctors. Miss Ali had suffered another brain haemorrhage, and a stroke.
“That’s what killed her,” said Miss Thompson, 37. “She didn’t have time to get another transplant. She knew herself that she wasn’t going to live. She kept saying she wouldn’t see it through her 30s. Deep down she knew, but at least she got that extra bit of time.”
Miss Ali leaves a large family, five sisters and a brother, her daughter Ella, now aged 10. Christmas is the hardest of times for all of them, says Miss Thompson.
“I can’t even put it into words how hard it is,” said Miss Thompson. “Becky was very funny. She was bubbly, before she got poorly. She would always tell you how it was.
“She only lived down the street. We were always at each other’s houses. Christmas is a bad time, because we would always spend it together.
“We knew she was poorly, but we didn’t expect her to pass away. We didn’t expect it to be so soon.
“We are grateful that she got that extra year.”
The family are speaking out today to encourage other families to back organ donation. After Miss Ali’s death, she donated her liver, which helped a man in his 60s.
“You never know if it’s going to happen to you, or to someone in your family,” said Miss Thompson. “Organ donation gives people the chance to live a normal life. They are no good to you when you’re gone really.”
An award to honour those who have saved lives through the gift of organ donation has been posthumously awarded to Rebecca Ali.
Her family, including daughter Ella and sister Mina Thompson, collected the Order of St John Award, run with NHS Blood and Transplant, on her behalf.
Hundreds of families nationwide have received the award, recognising the 1,619 people who donated their organs after death in 2018.
There are hundreds of people in Yorkshire facing a wait on the organ transplant list this Christmas, including 36 people in the East Riding, 93 in North Yorkshire, 115 in South Yorkshire, and 239 in West Yorkshire.
From spring 2020, the law around organ and tissue donation in England is changing. All adults in England will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate or are in one of the excluded groups.
Anthony Clarkson, director of organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Transplant patients tell us that organ donors and their families are heroes. "This award is a chance for us all to recognise their bravery and generosity, and their amazing contribution to society."