People from London and the South East who, through the selfless act of organ donation, have posthumously received recognition, were celebrated at a heartfelt awards ceremony recently.
Among those honoured is Abigail Guojah, affectionately known as Abi. During Organ Donation Week (18th-24th September), her family is sharing her inspiring story, aimed at inspiring everyone to affirm their decision to become organ donors through the NHS Organ Donor Register.
Abigail, at the age of 32 and hailing from Pinner, was part of a group of organ donors presented with the prestigious Order of St John Award for Organ Donation. This award, a collaborative effort between NHS Blood and Transplant spanning a decade, was presented to their families and loved ones during discreet award ceremonies held in London in May and June of this year.
Abi, known for her vivacious and compassionate nature, was always attuned to the needs of others. Tragically, in August 2022, Abi’s life was cut short. However, her legacy lives on as she generously donated her heart, kidneys, and pancreas, ultimately saving the lives of three individuals.
And it was not the first time Abi had saved a life – while living in South Africa in 2017 she rescued a friend who she spotted in difficulty while swimming in the sea, getting her out of the water and shouting for CPR help – it transpired the women had had a cardiac arrest and her actions saved the woman’s life.
Abi’s mum Valerie, aged 66, says: “Abi was lively and gregarious, she was a girl who made friends easily and kept them. She was clever and funny, could be quite outspoken and was a bit of a daredevil.
“Abi loved sport, she trained to be a yoga instructor, she used to run and liked walking and climbing; she also dabbled in tennis. She came back to live near us during lockdown and we enjoyed playing tennis together. Her other big passion was food and she loved to cook.
“She always wanted to help people, and would often try to do things for others. She was very caring and organ donation very much fitted with her personality.
“Abigail had been in intensive care for a couple of days and we were walking through the hospital knowing the worst would soon come. We hadn’t thought about organ donation but we passed a pop up banner which set us thinking and then the lift on the way to the ward was plastered with more posters about organ donation and we felt it was meant to be.
“My husband and I are on the Register so we brought it up with a lovely ICU nurse who arranged for someone from the organ donation team to come and see us. When they returned with the consent forms it transpired that Abi was already on the Organ Donor Register, and we knew then we were making the right decision.
“It really helped knowing Abi had joined the Register, we felt we were doing something that she would have agreed with. It might have been a hard call if she hadn’t been; we probably would still have done it but knowing it was what Abi wanted gave us peace of mind.
“It was comforting to receive Abi’s award, it meant so much that people are still talking about Abi and remembering her. She’s done something special, and she would have been so proud to be recognised. It was mixed emotions on the day but we wanted to go for Abi; it helped to meet others, it was sad to see so many like us but also comforting to know we are not alone.
“It is amazing that Abi has saved four lives, through organ donation and the sea rescue. I am so proud of her and her legacy.”
Abi’s dad is Robin Guojah and she has a sister Emma, who shared the same birthday as Abi but was born two years earlier; they called each other ‘twin’.
Hundreds of families are receiving the award across the UK this year, at regional ceremonies or privately, as the awards celebrate their tenth year. More than 1,400 people donated their organs after their death in 2022, leading to more than 3,500 lifesaving transplants*.
Mick Messinger, Chancellor of the Priory of England and the Islands of the Order of St John, said: “It is a pleasure and privilege to work with NHS Blood and Transplant again on a tenth year of ceremonies to mark the wonderful gifts of life given by people who chose to donate organs and their families who supported them in this decision. These events are always very emotional and I pay tribute to all the families that attend and, most of all, to their loved ones who have selflessly helped others to live after their own passing.”
Organ donation is a most precious gift and it is important that people register their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register to save lives when they die. Only around 1% of people in the UK die in the circumstances to become an organ donor each year which is why as many people as possible need to join the register and make their decision clear.
Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Organ donors and their families are truly inspirational people. Every donor transforms the lives of people they don’t know and the pride their families rightly feel is incredibly powerful.
“Patients who have received a transplant tell us that organ donors and their families are their heroes. The Order of St John awards, which we are proud to have been running with the Order of St John for ten years, are a chance for us all to recognise organ donors and their amazing contribution to society.
“We hope these awards will inspire other people in London to decide they want to donate their organs and join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Saving the lives of others is an amazing legacy to leave and donor families say donation is a source of pride that helps them in their grief.
“We want to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to donate their organs and save lives. Please confirm your decision to donate on the NHS Organ Donor Register at www.organdonation.nhs.uk.”