There’s A Powerfully Poignant Bond Behind This Photo Of A Group Of Friends

This picture of 22 people, dressed in black tie finery, hides a special secret – as each and every one of their lives has been touched by organ donation.

Each person is either a recipient, a donor or someone who has lost a loved one, whose organs have then gone on to save lives.

Sarah Jones now (PA Real Life/Collect)

Sharing an unbreakable bond, their friendship started online, mostly through social media, but in September 2018 they met in real life for the first time at a glittering ball.

They were brought together by Sarah Jones – a co-founder of Share Your Wishes, a group of like-minded individuals campaigning for people to disclose their desire to be organ donors to their loved ones.

Certainly, with 10 transplants received, three tragic bereavements and 13 lives saved between them, these people are living proof that even the darkest tragedy can result in a legacy that lives on.

Administrator Sarah, 46, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, said: “These friendships mean the world to me. As a group, we represent every part of organ donation.”

Sarah Jones and her dad Dennis just after her transplant (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added: “There are the recipients, like me, then living donors, who want to help a stranger or a loved one, and the families of donors who have passed away, who know what it is like in their worst moment to support the decision to save someone else.”

Standing at the far left of the photo are Darran and Shaun Saunders, 54 and 55 respectively, of Brighton, East Sussex, whose son Connor, 19, was killed by a single punch in 2012.

A 14-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was charged with manslaughter, but later found not guilty.

Darran and Shaun Saunders’ son Connor (PA Real Life/Collect)

Rather than dwelling on this, Darran, founder of The Connor Saunders Foundation, and damp proofer Shaun, prefer to focus on their pride that Connor saved seven lives after his death.

Next to them are hotel manager Ali Reynolds, 58, of Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex and her daughter Carly, 37, the mother and sister of Lee, who died in a car crash four weeks after his 21st birthday, in 2000.

Although heartbroken, the family’s selfless decision in their darkest hour meant that, because of Lee, two strangers in need received life-saving transplants, and two had their sight restored.

Ali Reynolds’ son Lee (PA Real Life/Collect)

Beside the Reynolds stand three people who know all too well the life-changing impact transplants can have.

First, is office manager Rachel Prosser, 33, of Lichfield, Staffordshire, who had a bone marrow transplant in 2001 to help her fight leukemia, then a single lung transplant in 2012 after developing Graft Versus Host, Disease, where the donated cells attack the body’s own cells.

Next, is receptionist Diana Higman, 50, of Derbyshire, who had a liver transplant 2008 because of autoimmune hepatitis and has since won five gold medals in cycling at the World Transplant Games and data analyst Gareth Jones, 40, of Heathfield, East Sussex, who had a liver transplant in 2017 because of cystadenomas – a type of tumor – standing with his wife Katharine, 40, a horse groomer.

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Next to them are Dee Lothian, 35, a co-founder of Share Your Wishes, and her husband Wayne, 39, a civil engineer, of Eastbourne, East Sussex.

They feared time was running out for their daughter Tiffany, now three, after she was born a with rare liver disease, biliary atresia.

But she was saved by a living relative who donated a part of her liver at the 11th hour.

Wayne Lothian with Tiffany when she was poorly (PA Real Life/Collect)

And, standing shoulder to shoulder with them are husband-and-wife, Maire and John Loughran, 62, a retired telecom engineer, of Wallington, Surrey.

Maire, 56, a community school nurse, donated a kidney to a stranger through the pooled donor system – where unsuitable donor and recipient pairs are matched to another pair, so that both people in need of a transplant receive an organ.

In the front row stands heart recipient Mimi Cook, 26, a nursery teacher of Exeter, Devon; Max Scott-Harman, 41, a finance worker of Eastbourne, East Sussex, who had two kidney transplants as a result of meningitis and customer advisor Kathryn Croker, 33, of Northamptonshire, who received a kidney from her dad, Kevin Abraham, 63, in 2013 after her own failed because of Henoch Schonlein Purpura (HSP).

Tiffany Lothian now (PA Real Life/Collect)

Affecting the blood vessels, it is not usually serious but can, in extreme cases, lead to kidney problems.

Next is photographer Rebecca (COR) Richards, 36, of Bicester, Oxfordshire, the mom of Christopher, two, who received a kidney from his IT manager dad, Martin Richards, 44, in 2018 after being born with posterior urethral valve (PUD) – the most common form of bladder outlet obstruction in newborn boys.

Then, there is Sarah, who had a kidney transplant in 2006 after being born with congenital abnormalities, which led to over 40 bladder operations, and a five year wait for a new organ.

Kathryn Croker and her dad (PA Real Life/Collect)

Finally, stands Share Your Wishes co-founder Wendy Kane, 49, of Shoreham-by-Sea, East Sussex – the mom of Jack Berger, who died in 2016 aged 21, after slipping and hitting his head on the pavement.

She is flanked by her partner Leah Sheldrick, 45, parents Jim, 74, and Gwen, 73, and daughter Charlie, 27.

By donating his organs, Jack saved four lives – and changed many more.

Wendy Kane and her son Jack (PA Real Life/Collect)

Recalling her own experience, Sarah – who has either met each person in the picture through her previous work as a trustee for charity Live Life Give Life or found them online and offered support, after reading their stories in the news – said: “When I got that call saying they had a donor, there were a mix of emotions going through my mind.

“But the uppermost one was of my donor family. Through their grief, they had given me the gift of life.”

Other people have equally poignant memories of organ donation.

Kathryn said: “Transplant day is one I will never forget. My Dad was wheeled down to theatre first and it was an agonizing wait to find out that he was ok.

“His kidney worked instantly when transplanted into me. The gratitude I have for his selflessness just cannot be measured.”

Dee added: “Meeting everyone at the ball was simply inspiring. Hearing from donor families was heart wrenching. These people are heroes and without them, there isn’t any hope for families like mine.”

Rebecca Richards’ son Christopher (PA Real Life/Collect)

Ali said: “We had no idea of Lee’s wishes, but I suddenly remembered that about three weeks before his death he was looking after his little sister, Georgina, who was 11 then, and they’d been watching a program about kidney donation.

“Afterwards, he’d taken her to get a donor card at the doctor’s, as she felt so strongly about it. I knew he wouldn’t have done that if he disapproved. We feel blessed that we were given the opportunity to donate Lee’s organs.”

Coming together in September 2018 at the Gift of Life Ball, the emotional occasion saw Sarah, Max, Wendy and Darran all sharing their moving stories, as well as hearing from motivational speaker Sally Bee, entering a charity raffle and raising a glass to toast a second chance at life and absent friends.

Diana Higman and her daughter Jess (PA Real Life/Collect)

Speaking as an opt-out system for organ donation has been given the green light to be introduced in England by April 2020, the group are welcoming the change in the law.

But they still stress the importance of people sharing their wishes regarding donation with their families.

Sarah said: “If you don’t share those wishes, then there is still the chance they could be overridden, so it’s imperative you have those conversations.”

Mimi Cook two weeks after her transplant (PA Real Life/Collect)

Darran added: “Seven families still get to make memories with their loved ones because of Connor.

“But the new opt-out law means nothing if the family decide not to honor their love one’s wishes, so sign up, speak up and let your love live on.”

For information and to sign up as a donor, visit www.shareyourwishes.co.uk and www.simoncallaghanphotography.com

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