HERO: 71-year-old Ulmarra great-grandmother Vicki Winmill became the first person to have her organs processed for donation at Grafton Base Hospital after her tragic death last month.
HERO: 71-year-old Ulmarra great-grandmother Vicki Winmill became the first person to have her organs processed for donation at Grafton Base Hospital after her tragic death last month. Please credit: The Winmill famil

Vicki's 'gift of life' a medical first

IT IS not often a standing ovation is observed at a funeral. But then again Vicki Winmill was no ordinary woman. The great-grandmother from Ulmarra was a history-maker. She was a hero. She was an organ donor.

Vicki created a moment of medical history when she became the first person to have their organs processed at Grafton Base Hospital.

The 71-year-old donated her kidneys and eyes after a brain aneurysm tragically took her from her loving family last month.

"It makes you feel very proud," Vicki's husband Paul said. "We feel proud knowing she was the first one.

"Somebody had to lead the way and I couldn't think of a better person than Vicki."

So while tears were shed as family and friends said a final farewell on the banks of the Clarence River, they also fell at hospital bedsides across the country as someone was given a second chance at life.

"Lots of people benefit from organ donation," director of Organ and Tissue Donations for Northern NSW, Dr Michael Lindley-Jones said.

"Universally, they're all grateful and humbled by the gift they have received."

Dr Lindley-Jones said the act of donation could have a "positive" impact on the grieving family, a point proven as Paul described the mixed emotions of losing his wife.

"I would recommend organ donation to anybody," Paul said. "Knowing their organs are helping somebody else, it makes grieving a little easier."

Vicki's gift of life was a major accomplishment for the Grafton Base Hospital and its staff, being "one of the smallest hospitals in Australia" to carry out the procedure. Dr Lindley-Jones hailed the hospital's herculean efforts to offer a donor service to the Clarence Valley.

"It is pretty rare that a level four intensive care should support organ donations, but Grafton is an exceptional place in that the staff there operate well and above what would be considered their role delineation," he said. "I think it's a positive that people in Grafton now have access to organ donation and can become organ donors if that is their wish."

The staff had their work cut out in a race against time to deliver Vicki's organs to the recipients.

"Everything has to fall into place," Dr Lindley-Jones said. "It's a complex process matching the organ to the recipient and getting the organ to the right place at the right time.

"So while one family is grieving and the lights are being turned off in one operating theatre, at the same time there will be several recipients receiving a life-changing phone call."

Paul said the hospital was "absolutely fantastic" in helping the family through the traumatic events following Vicki's death.

"The way they conducted themselves was the most professional I'd ever seen and very caring," he said.

Dr Lindley-Jones urged people thinking of becoming an organ donor to visit www.donatelife.gov.au and then have an honest conversation with family about their after-death wishes.



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