Like many other couples who have been together for a long time, Roger and Diane Cole sometimes seem like two halves of one person – they end each other’s sentences, they pick up the thread in each other’s conversation.
But unlike most other couples, Roger and Diane have had to face an awful tragedy which presented them with a decision most of us would desperately like to avoid.
Their daughter Charlotte was a talented horsewoman. She did not go to university; she started working in stables and became a trainer. She had started the process of getting a licence as a National Hunt jockey. She was strong, intelligent, courageous and ambitious.
But when she was 23 a horse she was riding stumbled and fell while galloping. Charlotte was thrown to the ground and the full weight of the horse fell on her. She suffered fatal trauma.
And in the midst of their grief Roger and Diane faced a terrible decision. Should they allow doctors to take Charlotte’s organs for transplant?
Fortunately, they had a very good idea of what Charlotte wanted – and the strength of her feelings about it. Because only a short while before the accident Charlotte and her mother had a conversation about organ donation, Charlotte was on the NHS Heart and Blood website enrolling as an organ donor. She and her mum joked about it – but Diane was left in no doubt about Charlotte’s intentions.
They gave doctors the go-ahead and Charlotte’s organs were transplanted into five patients. A gift of life for five very ill people, including a 10 month-old baby.
Only about one in three of us have followed Charlotte’s example and enrolled on the transplant register. But it is not just signing up that is important. Because in Britain, even if you have signed up on the register, doctors will not take your organs for a transplant if your family say no. So it is crucial that if you are thinking about donating organs, you should talk to your family about it, so they – as Roger and Diane knew – the strength of your feelings.
Charlotte’s determination to be a donor has also had what you might think is a slightly surprising effect – its helped Roger and Diane to come to terms with their loss. Charlotte’s gift to strangers was also a gift to the parents who survived her.