Real Life

Real life: My son donated his organs and we met the child he saved

My son made the ultimate sacrifice, but his legacy lives on.

By Laura Masia

Julie Wilson, 57, Melton, Vic shares her heartbreaking story of loss and survival:

My phone rang loudly on my bedside table, startling me awake.
It was 6am on Saturday morning, and I'd planned on sleeping in.
Bleary-eyed, I looked at the unknown number on the screen.
As I went to ignore it, a voice suddenly popped into my head.
Answer that call, it said.
With a sigh, I did.
"Sorry to call you so early. It's Brodie's friend, Amy," she said. "He's had an asthma attack."
I jolted upright and my head spun.
"Is he okay? Where is he now?" I urged.
"Um, I'm not sure," Amy mumbled. "He's in an ambulance."
My blood ran cold. My 18-year-old son Brodie had been diagnosed with asthma as a toddler. As he grew older, his symptoms got worse.
I jumped out of bed and immediately called Brodie's older brother, David.
The moment he heard my voice he knew something was wrong.
David was two hours away and although he was on his way, he asked his best mate, Chris, to drive me to hospital.
At 8am, we arrived at the ICU. A doctor met us there.
"Brodie's in a critical condition," he said solemnly. "We believe he's sustained some brain damage from a lack of oxygen, but we won't know for sure until we run some tests."
My boy, Brodie. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
We found out that while Brodie was at Amy's, he'd woken up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe.
His Ventolin was empty and he'd begged Amy to get help.
She didn't want to wake her mother, so he asked for a brown paper bag to breathe into.
She couldn't find one and Brodie ran outside for fresh air.
The asthma attack got worse and he lost consciousness in the backyard.
Amy called an ambulance and they arrived 27 minutes later and rushed him to hospital.
Tears welled in my eyes as the doctor led us into Brodie's room.
Looking at my sweet boy, surrounded by machines, my heart broke.
He's just resting, I told myself.
Brodie was a natural comedian - his smile lit up a room. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Hours later, David and I were sitting by his side when the doc returned with results.
"I'm so sorry," he said softly. "Brodie's completely brain dead."
I couldn't comprehend it.
"Tell him he's wrong," I begged my unconscious son. "Brodie, just open your eyes."
It was too late. David put his arm around me as I crumbled into a sobbing heap.
Brodie was a natural comedian with a gift for lighting up any room he stepped into. My world felt so dark without him in it.
Later, a nurse approached me. I knew what she wanted, so I nodded.
"Brodie always wanted to donate his organs," I said to her softly.
Two years earlier, I'd been filling out some forms in the kitchen while the boys were relaxing before dinner.
"What's that, Mum?" Brodie had asked me.
"They're organ donor forms," I replied.
David chimed in, explaining how important organ donation is. I agreed.
L-R: My daughter Sarah, me, and my boys David and Brodie. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
"Brodie, would you want to be a donor?" I asked. He paused to think about it.
"I don't need my organs when I'm gone," he replied. "The only thing I ask you is please don't touch my eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul, Mum."
My precious boy was always thinking about others.
Now, I was so glad we'd had that conversation.
The nurse squeezed my hand gently before leaving to organise the procedures.
Brodie donated his heart, kidneys and liver to five different people.
He'd always been my hero, but now he was that for many others, too.
For support after Brodie's death, I joined the Donor and Recipients Group Australia on Facebook.
One day a few years later, I came across a post asking for people to post their transplant anniversary.
There were 680 comments, but I couldn't resist scrolling through to see if any matched Brodie's.
Organ donation needs to be done as soon as possible, so Brodie's date would be the same as his recipients'.
I scrolled for hours until I found a comment from a woman named Sondra with the same date; 1st of July 2013!
Could Brodie have saved her or someone she loved?
Sondra's daughter Alex at 18 months old in the ICU. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
In Australia, donor families can get in touch with the recipient family through letters sent to the organisation Donate Life, however, all personal information including the name, age and sex of the donor is removed.
Despite this, I couldn't resist sending Sondra a private message asking whether she'd ever sent her donor family a letter.
A couple of days later, she responded saying that she hadn't.
But the matching dates couldn't be ignored.
Why don't you send a letter and if I receive it we'll know it's not just coincidence, I suggested, and Sondra agreed.
Three weeks later, I received a letter in the mail.
Sondra's 14-month-old daughter, Alex, was experiencing liver failure and was on the brink of death when a donor liver became available.
She received half of Brodie's liver and made a full recovery.
"I can't believe we found each other," Sondra said over the phone.
After getting to know each other, we decided to meet up.
I was absolutely shaking with nerves as I drove to their home.
The moment I met Sondra and her husband Anthony. (Image: 7 News)
There, Sondra and her husband, Anthony, were waiting for me.
Tears ran down our faces as we embraced.
"Thank you so much," Sondra sobbed. "We wouldn't be here without you."
After what felt like an eternity, we let go of each other and Sondra called for Alex, seven, to come outside.
Seconds later, she walked out with a big smile on her face and gave me a big hug.
It almost felt like I was holding Brodie, too. A part of him was now with her and it was the greatest gift he could ever give.
Now, I feel so blessed to be one of the few people to have met one of Brodie's recipients.
For years, Alex was just an anonymous recipient typed on a document, but after meeting her and seeing the legacy that Brodie has left behind, I've found a sense of peace.
Sondra and Anthony have taught Alex that Brodie is her big brother in heaven and that now, she has two mums.
They often send me little updates about what she's up to and it's crazy how similar Alex and Brodie are.
I believe the system should allow for more consenting donor families to meet their recipients and I will be an advocate until the laws change.
I miss my boy every day, but he's a hero and his light lives on.
Me and Alex - we share a special bond. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Sondra says:
Before I met Julie, I thanked our donor every single day for being so generous and giving my girl life.
I wanted to meet the donor family to show our gratitude and let them see what their selfless act meant to us.
Meeting Julie was incredible and now she's part of our family.
She has a special bond with Alex and will be celebrating all of her milestones with us.
I still can't put into words how thankful I am.

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