Ella Murtha, 32, from Stockton-on-Tees explains how her mum's love is living on...
Growing up as an only child, my best friend was my mum. She was a single parent, so it was us against the world.
Years on, I met Paul, 36. When we had our son Dexter in 2011, my mum Tish was a brilliant gran, too.
I didn’t know what I’d do without her. But then I didn’t think I had to worry about that.
Mum was fit and healthy. Just 5ft 3in and about 8st, she was a vegetarian, didn’t drink. She was always on the go. She lived about an hour away in South Shields but we spoke on the phone all the time. We were always texting, too.
Which is why it was so strange when in March 2013 she wasn’t replying to my messages.
‘It’s just not like her,’ I worried.
On Mother’s Day 2013, we drove to hers and I knocked on the door.
I managed to get in around the back and found Mum wandering around with a black eye, staring right through me.
‘What happened to your eye?’ I asked.
She didn’t know. She was just 56 and usually as fit as a fiddle. Clearly something wasn’t right.
An ambulance raced her to hospital.
‘There’s a mass on the front of her brain,’ the consultant said. ‘It’s a tumour or a blood clot.’
Mum slipped into a coma.
It didn’t seem real as doctors explained that she’d had a brain aneurysm.
‘She’s been starved of oxygen for too long,’ we were told two days on. ‘She’s not coming back.’
Lying there hooked up to wires and machines, she had her eyes shut like she was sleeping.
Doctors explained that they had to wait for her to be declared brain dead before she was technically gone.
‘When someone’s brain dead, they’re the perfect candidate for organ donation,’ the doctor said.
I didn’t pause to think.
‘Yes,’ I replied instantly.
Mum had been taken too soon, but she could help others live. The thought of organ donation kept me going as I sat by her bed, holding her hand.
‘Don’t hang on for me,’ I told Mum the next day. ‘Be at peace.’
I like to think she heard because, that evening, she slipped away.
The following day, Mum had operations to remove her heart, kidney, pancreas, liver and lungs, as well as tissue and her eyes.
Back at home, the pain of losing her was unbearable.
About two weeks later, I got a letter from the NHS blood and transplant team. The organ-donation operations had been a success.
A huge comfort. It also got me thinking about the people she’d helped.
Mum believed in reincarnation, so it felt as if, by donating her organs, it wasn’t the end. And it was amazing to learn that she’d saved the lives of four women and the eyesight of four men.
Then in the October, six months after the transplants, two letters were forwarded to me from the transplant team.
One was from a lady called Jane who’d received Mum’s lungs.
I don’t know how to put into words my appreciation of what you did for me… I’m a mum of four and I became ill when I was pregnant with twins… I started to think I wouldn’t be here for my children.
It was fantastic knowing Mum had helped Jane be there for her children.
I also got a lovely letter from Teresa, thanking me for Mum’s kidney and pancreas.
I wrote back to them both.
We exchanged a few letters and then, at Christmas 2015, a card arrived from Jane’s daughter Maisie, 8.
Dear Ella… it read. Thank you for letting your mum save my mummy’s life.
Words can’t describe how overwhelmed I felt.
Soon I was in touch with Jane and Teresa directly. I learned that Jane had her lung transplant on 14 March – Mum’s birthday.
So as the third anniversary approached, we arranged to meet up in South Shields, where Mum’s ashes were scattered.
The minute Jane got out of the car, we hugged tightly and cried.
I felt as if we’d known each other forever. Like she was a friend who Mum had introduced me to.
We started seeing each other regularly. And then, in June, I arranged to meet up with Teresa, too.
A diabetic since she was about 7, when she’d got pregnant with her son Alfie, her kidneys had packed in. Mum’s organs had enabled Teresa to be there for her child, too.
We spent the day at Legoland with our families and got on brilliantly. So well, in fact, that last August me, Jane and Teresa went on a girls’ weekend in Nottingham.
As we shopped, ate, drank and talked, it felt as if we’d always known each other. The three of us share DNA now, so really they’re the sisters I never had.
I know we’ll never lose touch. Thanks to Mum, me, Jane and Teresa will always share a special bond.
To find out more about the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23.