As a child, Kirrin Ingham lived a normal life but soon realised she was different from the other youngsters she played and went to school with. Kirrin, 34, who lives near Lancaster, recalls: “I realised I could not see as well as my friends could.
“I struggled with reading and watching television and I couldn’t see the blackboard at school.
“I started to lose confidence in myself and I as the day-to-day things that other people took for granted were difficult for me and I wouldn’t play out as I couldn’t see properly.”
Kirrin’s mum took her to an optician who referred her to the opthalmic team at hospital who discovered she had a condition called kerataconus.
Keratoconus is a degenerative disorder of the eye in which structural changes within the cornea cause it to thin and change to a more conical shape than the more normal gradual curve and this distorts the vision.
Glasses and contact lenses were tried on Kirrin but nothing seemed to restore her sight so the only option left open to her was to have a corneal graft.
She was referred to a corneal graft specialist in London and had to travel down for consultations and tissue matching to find a suitable corneal donor.
At the age of 10, Kirrin underwent a corneal graft on her left eye which restored her vision.
Kirrin remembers: “It was absolutely magical. I could suddenly see the faces of my family clearly.
“I could go out and play with my friends, I could watch television properly and I didn’t have to copy work off my friends at school anymore as I could actually see the blackboard.
“It was as if I could start re-living my life again.”
When she was 12, Kirrin had a corneal graft done on her right eye and could see perfectly. It was at this stage that she felt she could fully start living her life and pursuing her hopes and dreams.
Kirrin explains: “I had always looked forward to having driving lessons, but when my vision was so bad, this wouldn’t have been open to me.
“However, after the corneal grafts, I knew I could have driving lessons.
“At the age of 18, I entered the nursing profession.
“This had always been my dream, but I had feared I would not be able to pursue it because of my bad sight as I knew I wouldn’t be able to see to do things like stitching.
“When I started my nursing, I remember thinking that I would be the one to make a difference.
“I wanted to give something back for the gift of sight that I had received.”
Kirrin joined the emergency department at Royal Lancaster Infirmary and identified that tissue donation was something that was not discussed or explored with bereaved families.
Every year, hundreds of lives are saved with the help of donated organs such as hearts and kidneys, but many people do not realise that donated tissue such as skin, bone and heart valves can also save and dramatically improve the quality of life for many.
Kirrin says: “Because of the nature of the patients we see in the emergency department, organ donation is not usually an option as the patients are not usually ventilated.
“However, tissue donation is possible and can make a huge difference to people’s lives.”
Kirrin has worked tirelessly for the last 10 years to raise awareness of tissue donation within the emergency department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and has worked closely with the Organ Donation committee and the National Referral Centre who have supported her in educating, mentoring and motivating her colleagues to raise the subject of tissue donation with families at particularly sensitive times.
Kirrin explains: “I have been able to help give staff the confidence to talk to families and broach the topic of tissue donation.
“Before this, families were denied the choice.”
Kirrin’s hard work has reaped rewards as latest figures show that between April 2013 and November 2013, 50 tissue donors were referred from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and more than half of these donors came directly from the emergency department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary making it the highest referring emergency department in the country for tissue referrals.
Kirrin’s next goal is to share everything she has achieved in the emergency department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary across the trust.
Kirrin, who is married to Andrew and has children Fern, eight and Mason, seven, says: “The personal skills and experience that I have acquired while introducing tissue donation into the emergency department have driven my ambition to spread this best practice across the trust.
“My aim is that one day our trust will have the highest tissue donation referral rates in the country.
“I want to help make it possible for other people to live fuller lives like me because of tissue donation.
“Before I had the corneal transplants done, I felt as if my life was on hold.
“I could not just go out and do the things I wanted to do such as going out and playing on my bike.
“I felt like I could not look forward to the future and could not envisage having a family or a job.
“Having corneal transplants made possible by tissue donation had a dramatic impact on my life.
“Once my sight was restored, it was the best gift in the world.
“It is priceless.”
Tissue donation can help thousands of people each year.
Donated tissue such as skin, bones and eyes can save or dramatically improve the lives of many people suffering from illness or injury.
Thanks to the generosity of donors and their families, thousands of people every year receive life-transforming tissue transplants.
Registering to be a tissue donor is quick and easy. To be a donor after your death, you simply need to join the Organ Donor Register and tell your closest family and friends about your wishes.
For more information, visit www.nhsbt.nhs.uk.