“Make the decision to go onto the organ donation register, don’t leave it up to your family to make when you die,” is the plea from heart transplant recipient, and nurse, Ernesto Antonio during the national Organ Donation Week (4 to 10 September.)
Ernesto, 53, is charge nurse in our theatres. He was lucky enough to receive a life-saving heart transplant 18 years ago after a virus led to multiple organ failure.
Without the heart, donated by a 26-year-old male who died after taking Ecstasy, Ernesto (pictured above) would not have survived, leaving his daughter Isabella, then five, without a father and his wife Kate a widow.
He said: “I can’t describe the wait for an organ, you just wait and hope. It goes without saying that I am extremely grateful for my donor heart.
“I was on the donation register before my transplant, and I am still on it now. I’d encourage people to sign up, make that decision now, especially as it can be very difficult for your family to make after your death. The waiting list for organs is getting longer all the time so it’s really important. The best thing for me is that having my transplant meant I was there to raise my daughter, and I was there to care for my wife when she needed me.”
Ernesto met his wife Kate when they were both working at our former hospital, Oldchurch, in 1989. Kate, a former theatre sister at our hospitals, died of breast cancer 18 months ago.
Their daughter Isabella, now 23, is just finishing her master’s degree, another milestone Ernesto would not have lived to see without his donor heart.
Ernesto, of Headley Chase, Brentwood, was very fit before his illness and, after a year-long recovery from his transplant, which meant he had to relearn basic tasks like walking and brushing his teeth, he’s run several marathons and completed gruelling cycling challenges, including riding from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. He even regularly competes in the annual British Transplant Games, and the bi-annual European Transplant Games.
Ernesto will be doing his bit to encourage others to sign the donation register by joining colleagues on a stall at Queen’s Hospital from 9am to 5pm on Tuesday 5 September. Visitors will be able to find out more about the importance of being on the register, as well as sign up then and there.