A Young Farmer’s desire to donate his organs in the event of his death has helped multiple people since he tragically passed away.
Emily Scaife finds out more about his legacy...
The father of a 25-year-old farmer who passed away unexpectedly last year has revealed how his son’s desire to be an organ and tissue donator has helped more than 25 people in the past 12 months.
Bury Young Farmers Club chairman Josh Gilbert, from Walsham le Willows, Suffolk, collapsed and died 20 minutes into a rugby match in September 2017.
His father, Howard Gilbert, recalls the moment nurses asked him and his wife if they had considered organ donation and describes his relief they had already discussed the scenario as a family.
He says: “Josh was always very interested in current affairs and we’d had this discussion. So when the question came we were ready.
“This was on the Saturday night and at 9.30am on Sunday morning we received a call from a nurse who mentioned tissue donation to us. I had never really heard of it, but Josh’s view was clear – make use of him in whatever way was possible.
“The nurse reeled off a list of all the different ways body parts can make a huge difference in terms of tissue donation and I was stunned.
“Josh was young, 6ft 4ins and in reasonable health. Because he had died of heart failure it meant the rest of his body hadn’t been damaged at all, so he could potentially help a lot of people.”
The family were told one pair of eyes from a donor can benefit as many as six people.
“Josh had good eyesight, so his corneas were harvested,” explains Howard. “We’ve since found out, thanks to Josh, a 27-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman can see thanks to him.
“He has given two people from his generation the gift of sight, which is the most valuable sense we have. For me, this is fantastic.
“I imagine Josh would have been particularly interested in being the eyes of a 21-year-old girl!”
On World Sight Day (October 11), NHS Blood and Transplant revealed its eye banks are 19 per cent below the level needed to supply hospitals and are urgently in need of donations.
Around 90 donations are needed every week to meet the demand for sight-saving transplants, but there is a regular shortfall.
Helen Gillan, general manager for Tissue and Eye Services at NHS Blood and Transplant, says: “Our eye banks are currently well below the level we’d like and we understand people often view the eyes with more emotion and see them as more symbolic than other parts of the body.
“Almost anyone can donate their sight. People tell us the decision to donate brings a sense of pride and comfort.”
This is something Howard agrees with.
“The word legacy tends to get banded around a lot, but for us Josh’s donation is the ultimate
legacy,” he says. “Tragic circumstances always prevail when one so young dies, but to think it all doesn’t suddenly end there is comforting.
“Some people are very uncomfortable with the idea of organ and tissue donation, but I had no idea tissue could be used in such a widespread way and improve the quality of life for so many people.”
Josh, a former Easton and Otley College student, worked at Tompsett Burgess Growers at the time of his death.
“He was creating a good life for himself. The agricultural community embraced him and he gave that back,” Howard says. “It was so important to him to live and work in the countryside.”
Josh’s role with Bury Young Farmers made him a recognisable and popular figure.
“He would take the time to visit junior clubs in the area and encourage younger people,” Howard adds.
“We had a celebration to mark the first anniversary of his passing and one of his best friends told everyone: ‘Do what Josh would have done tonight. He would have had a good time, but he also would have spoken to someone new.’
“The number of people who approached us afterwards and said they came back to YFC or the rugby club because Josh spoke to them was notable.
“Josh knew what was important in life and if someone needed a hand he would help them. People loved him because of that.
“As a parent, there is no finer tribute. We can’t all be Prime Ministers or captains of industry. There have to be some foot soldiers and he was so well appreciated, which has made us so proud.”
The NHS estimates that Josh’s decision to donate his body tissue has helped around 25 people and potentially as many as 45.
In addition to his corneas, his leg and arm bones were used to make a paste which is used in reconstructive surgery, particularly for patients suffering from bone cancer who before this medical advance may have been forced to lose a limb.
“They were also able to use his knee cartilage,” Howard says. “Josh loved sport, so to think that another enthusiast, or even professional, is able to resume a promising career with new cartilage or tendons, courtesy of him, is staggering.”
His femoral arteries can be stored for up to five years in order to benefit one recipient and his leg tendons alone could help as many as 15 people of all ages.
Josh’s desire to donate his body in the event of his death is something his family were happy to support. Luckily they had previously discussed this eventuality and knew his wishes – but this is rare.
Research undertaken by NHS Blood and Transplant has shown that 80 per cent of the UK population believe in organ donation and that where someone is on the Organ Donor Register and their loved ones are aware of this, 92 per cent of families support their decision.
However, where a family does not know the wishes of their loved one, the number who agree to donation drops to just under 50 per cent.
Nicolette Harrison, the Human Tissue Authority’s director of regulatory delivery, says: “More conversations about organ donation increase the chances of honouring wishes and ultimately saving lives.”
Howard explains nothing could ever replace Josh, but that they are very glad his selfless act has benefited so many.
“No matter how tragic something is, a positive can always come out of a negative,” he says.
“We were unprepared for the impact of the tissue donation. We had no idea one person could improve the quality of life for so many.
“Our overwhelming emotion as we reflect on his life is one of pride. We rather underestimated just how much our young man was appreciated. Yes, we are heartbroken, but also very proud that our eldest son was so well regarded.”