Cockburnspath resident shares his story of organ donation

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A man who received a life-saving liver transplant in 2017 has visited Melrose Abbey, one of three in the Borders which were illuminated green in support of Organ Donation Week (September 2 – 8).

Richard Copland, 63, from Cockburnspath, who was diagnosed with a chronic liver disease in November 2015, shared his story as he encouraged people to talk about their organ donation decision.

The Abbey was one of a number of buildings and landmarks that were bathed in the Organ Donation Scotland campaign colour to mark the week, including the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, The Kelpies and the University of Abertay.

During Organ Donation Week, people were being encouraged to think about their organ and tissue donation decision and make it known.

From Autumn 2020, the law around organ and tissue donation is changing in Scotland, meaning that if people have not confirmed whether they want to be an organ donor, it may be assumed they’re willing to donate when they die.

People have a choice, and they can record their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register at any time.

Richard was diagnosed Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, after taking ill with a bleed on holiday in France.

On his return home, he was sent for tests by his GP due to concerns over his weight loss, and his consultant at Borders General Hospital got in touch with the liver transplant unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh who quickly came back with the diagnosis.

As someone who had enjoyed good health all his life, Richard’s diagnosis came totally out of the blue.

Richard, who worked for the NHS and latterly the Scottish Government said: “Throughout my whole career, I’d only had three days off sick so it was quite a shock. The condition meant that my bile ducts were being attacked, resulting in bile being unable to drain from my liver.

“I was able to manage the condition with medication, but was told that the long-term solution would be a transplant. A year-and-a-half after my diagnosis, my liver started to fail and I noticed my health starting to decline.

“I went from being 17 stone, to just over ten stone, developed ascites which resulted in fluid building up in my abdomen, and eventually was dealing with 24 hour a day itching which was unbearable.”

Richard had to attend Borders General Hospital every two weeks to get the fluid drained, with up to 25 litres being removed at each session.

At that point, he was referred for transplant assessment, being listed in July 2017, and started to get himself fit in anticipation of the transplant surgery.

The call that would save his life came in October 2017, just three months later.

Richard said: “Although I was never in any pain, I felt really grotty and life became that bit harder. When the call came, I was standing in the fruit and veg aisle of the supermarket. My wife told me the hospital were waiting for me, as they’d found me a liver, and I headed straight to the Royal Infirmary.”

Admitting he woke up a new person, Richard shared his gratitude to his donor, and those who supported him throughout his illness.

He said: “The change in my life has been absolutely tremendous. I’ll never know who did this for me, but it’s coming up to the time where I’ll be able to write them a letter and send it via the donor co-ordinator.

“My two daughters also plan to share their thanks and have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register as a result of my illness. There’s just immense gratitude for what that person has done for me, and for us as a family.

“I wouldn’t have got through it without the support of my wife Margaret and the staff involved in my care. Apart from being experts, they were just so human, helping both me and my wife deal with things.

“I now volunteer to help others going through a similar thing, driving dialysis patients to and from their appointments every week.

“I understand there are people who don’t want to donate their organs for various reasons and you have to respect that. But it’s important people understand that if they want to donate, they need to share it with family as they could go against your wishes unless they know that’s what you would have wanted.

“It’s saved my life, but it’s done so much more. The change it makes to both the recipients and their families is just incredible.”