Aylsham woman’s gift of sight

A north Norfolk family is hoping the tragic story of a mother-of-two's sudden death will encourage more people to become organ donors.

Dawn Wilton from Aylsham died aged 48 from an unexpected epileptic seizure in November 2009 but has given the gift of sight to two people through her corneas.

Her husband Andrew said: 'We went to bed as normal. Dawn hadn't been ill. I woke up at four in the morning and thought she was having a bit of a nightmare. Then I realised her breathing was all over the place and something was wrong.

'I phoned the ambulance and the paramedics tried everything to save her, but I knew she had gone.'

Despite being in a state of shock, when the call came just hours later to ask about donating her corneas, the 55-year-old had no hesitation in giving his consent.

And since then, the knowledge that she gave two people the gift of sight has given her family a small measure of comfort to help ease their loss.

Mrs Wilton, who was office manager for Aylsham and Reepham Surgery, had epilepsy, but she had not had a fit for 26 years and meticulously took her medication, so her death from an unexplained epileptic seizure was a horrendous blow.

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The Aylsham couple, who were married for 30 years and had two sons, Tristan, 30, and Bradley, 27, shared a home in Crompton Road and shared a passion for travelling, visiting far-flung destinations including Gambia, Kenya and Goa.

Mr Wilton, who is an NHS maintenance craftsman and an Aylsham town councillor, said: 'She was quiet but a very, very intelligent girl.

'She had a big knowledge of the medical field and she was adamant people should be donors.

'She couldn't give blood because of her medication and so she encouraged Tristan to do it instead.

'After she died, Sam Major from the eye bank called and said Dawn was on the register and the only thing they could use was her corneas.

'Sam does a marvellous job calling people at a very difficult time and I didn't have any hesitation in saying yes.

'I knew how strongly Dawn felt about it and there's no way I could have refused.'

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital was selected in 2008 by NHS Blood and Transplant as one of 10 centres across the country as a national transplant eye bank.

To meet the challenge of improving cornea donation rates, NHS organisations were invited to apply to join the scheme and become an NHS Blood and Transplant-funded Eye Retrieval Centre.

A total of 22 hospitals put in bids, and the N&N was one of the chosen because it already had an eye bank and a strong track record in this area.

So far there has been around 2,500 donors of corneas which could have helped to save the sight of 5,000 people. The N&N estimates that its eye bank provides around 15 to 20pc of all donated corneas nationally.

In the UK there is a shortage each year of approximately 500 corneas.

Mrs Wilton's mother, Hazel Tough, 74, and stepfather Harry, 74, of Holman Close, Aylsham, said when the family received a letter from one of the recipients of the donated corneas it brought a lump to their throats.

Mrs Tough said: 'We knew from the way Dawn was that she would have been thrilled to think she would have helped someone else so it helped us as well.

'I took that letter to a reunion with some friends and one cried when she read it.

'She said she had always said they could take any part of her body but her eyes, but reading the letter changed her mind.

'We hope that we can help change more minds.'

To join the organ donor register, call the NHS Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23.

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