The parents of a Belfast teenager who died suddenly have urged families to talk about their wishes around organ donation.
A police investigation is ongoing following the death of Fionntan McGarvey, 18, in January after an incident outside a bar in the south of the city the month before.
Lorcan and Aveen said that despite their son’s young age, he had signed the organ donor register – a move which guided their decision at a time of immense shock and grief.
They now hope to encourage a widespread discussion so people know if their loved ones want to become organ donors or not.
It comes as almost 500 people prepare to run and walk Sunday’s Belfast City Marathon to raise the money needed to start a local group, which will help university students speak to schoolchildren about the importance of making their wishes known.
Members of St Brigid’s GAA and Queen’s University GAA – teams talented sportsman Fionntan played for – are among those taking part, as are family members in green T-shirts.
Some are set to run in sunflower headpieces, with the short-lived bloom holding a special poignancy for the McGarvey family.
More than £55,000 has been raised so far to set up the first branch of We Are Donors at the Queen’s University, Belfast.
The charity, first set up at Newcastle University in 2016, teaches university students about organ donation so they can go to schools and start conversations.
As Fionntan was a first-year engineering student at Queen’s, Mr and Mrs McGarvey said they feel it is the perfect charity to back in his memory.
The law in Northern Ireland will change in 2023 to a soft opt-out approach, where every adult will be on the organ register unless they decide otherwise.
The next of kin will still need to give permission before organs are retrieved.
The legislation is known as Daithi’s Law after five-year-old Daithi Mac Gabhann, who has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant for three and a half years.
Mr and Mrs McGarvey said in that context, families discussing their wishes is even more important.
“Fionntan had made the decision during his life to put his name on the organ donor register so that in the event of his death he wished that his organs could be used for donation, which we thought was very much in keeping with his wonderful generosity of spirit and the beautiful person that he was,” Mr McGarvey told the PA news agency.
He said there is “no more important time” to raise awareness than “when people are in that early phase of their life where so many of them feel invincible”, though “unfortunately the gift of organ donation tragically requires that some family loses a loved one”.
“The awful tragedy of Fionntan’s death was followed by the generous gift of his organ donation and as a consequence we believe there is an important opportunity to do something in Fionntan’s memory,” he added.
Following Fionntan’s death, the donation of his kidneys transformed two people’s lives.
Mr McGarvey said: “The wishes of next of kin and family are so important because the consent for organs to be offered for donation is very important to the medical team that would be approaching family around the possibility of donation.
“The evidence is clear that where a family is aware their loved one had a wish either to be an organ donor or clearly not to be an organ donor, that makes their decision so much easier, and it’s clear that the likelihood of a successful organ donation offering is much greater when a family are aware what their loved ones wishes were and that only comes through discussion.”
Mrs McGarvey said: “The family make the decision for the person. Whether the person is on the organ donor register or not helps them make their decision.
“We had the brutal reality of that.”
She said she still had to sit in intensive care and go through paperwork, signing to give consent as every next of kin does.
She added: “There is nothing automatic about it. Your family will be discussed with in great detail and an opt out system will not change that. What it will hopefully change is the number of people on the organ donor register.
“When this new legislation comes in, at the age of 16 you will automatically be put on the organ donor register and then if you decide you don’t want to be an organ donor you can actively opt out.
“It highlights the importance of the discussion.
“We’re not trying to force other people’s decisions, but trying to encourage people to have the conversations.
“It’s all about having the facts and having the information.”
You can donate to the fundraising effort at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/fionntan-mcgarvey