Dad gives the gift of life and sight after tragic death
THIS year's Christmas might be the toughest for Michelle Hughes and her three beautiful children, but she finds solace in the knowledge that through her plight, others have been blessed with the gift of life.
In June, her husband Matthew Hughes was surfing at Byron Bay when his surfboard struck him in the head, causing a profound haemorrhage.
That evening at Tweed Hospital, the 36-year-old was pronounced dead and Michelle was faced with the decision of whether or not to donate his organs.
"I'd been open with my family and he'd been open with his about our choice to donate, so it was really a no-brainer," she said.
A team of specialist doctors was flown on a chartered plane from Sydney to Coolangatta and escorted by police to Tweed Hospital.
Matthew's organs were taken back to Sydney, where his heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were transplanted, giving the gift of life to five people.
He also donated his eyes, which gave sight to two people.
"His liver was cut in half - half went to an adult and half went to a child. That amazes me. It really touched us all," Michelle said.
"The one organ that I really hesitated was the eyes. I don't know why. But now I am so glad that we did donate Matt's eyes because they benefited two young people with eye diseases.
"It's such a positive thing that you can hold on to in such a horrible situation and I'm still clinging on to that now to get me through. It definitely persists through the grieving and healing process," she said.
Dr Michael Lindley-Jones, director of the intensive care unit at Tweed Hospital, said the Hughes' generous contribution was possible because their decision was made early on as a family.
"Michelle and Matthew had a previous conversation about organ donation prior to his accident, so they knew of each other's wishes.
"Even though it was traumatic, the decision was made easier for Michelle because she knew it was what Matthew had wanted.
"Knowing your loved one's wishes is so important because even though organ donation is rare, when it does happen, it has the potential to save many lives," he said.
Michelle said that Tweed families should talk about organ donation.
"Christmas is the perfect time, when everybody is gathered around. Have the discussion and register your intent on the website. Make sure all your family is aware, all your brothers and sisters, all your in-laws.
"It's a practical thing to discuss. It's not morbid. When you're in the situation and a decision needs to be made, the pressure's off.
"And it's so important because so many people are waiting," she said.