Guernsey man who had lifesaving liver transplant welcomes 'opt out' donor system

  • Video report by Roisin Gauson

A Guernsey man who had a lifesaving liver transplant has welcomed plans to change the law around organ donations.

From 1 January 2023 people will have to 'opt-out' of donating their organs, rather than 'opting-in'.

This means that unless islanders formally register against donating, there will be a legal presumption of consent. However, the family will always be consulted before any donation.

It is almost three years since Ian Cooper had a transplant operation.

A rare genetic disorder called Wilsons Disease led to internal scarring on his liver, which began to fail.

At the age of 35 he was in urgent need of a transplant and went on to the list. What followed was an 11-month wait.

The first call came in October 2018.

Ian explained: “I had a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning and they were trying to get a flight to get me over.

"In the end they got the coastguard to pick me up, so they directly airlifted me to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

"I think we were there probably about 10 hours and then they decided. Basically they put the donor liver on to a test bed, just to make sure that they weren’t transplanting a liver that could have problems, so they did that and it came back as it wasn’t going to be sufficient."

Credit: Ian Cooper

Ian returned to Guernsey and his health deteriorated to the point that he was no longer able to work.

Shortly after a decision was made to move him to the hospital in Cambridge, so that he could be ready and waiting should a suitable organ become available. Then another call came.

Ian said: “At that point it was really fast. I think the call came at 6 o’clock. By 9 o’clock I was being wheeled down to theatre.

"It was an eight-hour operation and then I woke up the next day and it was all done.”

Ian remained in hospital for six weeks and he lost a lot of weight.

His body initially rejected the liver but hospital staff managed to balance out the medication and six months on, Ian's health began to improve.

Credit: Ian Cooper

He added: “In the hospital they tell you ‘it’s all going to work out, it’s all going to work out’ and you sort of lose a bit of faith because it does hurt and it’s a mixture of emotions and pain, missing home and a lot of things like that.

"But eventually they get the medication right and since then, well I suppose it’s like going from an 80-year-old body that struggles to walk or get up or do anything to being healthy and fit again.

“I mean whether people do or don't donate, that's entirely their decision, but I think the opt-out is going to make a lot more organs available and give a lot more people the chance to carry on living.

“It means the world. Really. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my organ donor, that’s about the size of it. I wouldn’t be here.”

Credit: Ian Cooper

Ian’s wife Chloe Cooper explained: “I think this way if you have really strong views that you don’t want to do it then it’s a lot easier to opt out than it is the other way round and I think you’ll get more transplants, more chances for people, other families to have that important surgery that they need.”

Ian’s son Teddy Cooper added: “It was the day after my birthday and I was building some of my Lego I got because I love Lego and my Dad suddenly walked through the door and I was so happy.”

Statistics show every one person who decides to donate their organs in the event of their death can save the lives of up to nine others. 

Deputy Al Brouard, President of Guernsey's Health and Social Care Committee, said: “It’s a soft opt-out system, so you’ve got the opportunity to register if you want to give and also you’ve got the opportunity to register if you don’t want to give.

"But we will assume in the majority of cases that you do and of course the family can always override that if necessary – but it’s really useful if people have that conversation with their families as to what they would like to do and it’s a fantastic gift to other families.”