Couple puts children’s organ donation ‘at the center’ with 230 handmade dolls

The parents of a three-year-old boy waiting for a multi-organ transplant have launched a campaign to place 230 dolls in children's hospitals across the country, representing more than 230 children in the UK who are waiting for an organ donation.

The handmade dolls, designed to look like each child, will wear a badge inviting passers-by to scan a QR code so they can listen to recordings of real children telling their stories of needing an organ transplant.

The campaign, Waiting To Live, is the brainchild of Katie and Graham Tatham, both 35, from London, whose son Ralph was diagnosed with liver cancer in January and needs a liver, bowel and pancreas transplant after spread of the disease.

Ralph was originally due to receive a partial liver donation from his father, but Mrs Tatham said the cancer had become “too far into his veins” and a multi-organ transplant “is his only chance of survival”.

“It was a huge shock because she didn't really have any symptoms other than a swollen belly,” Mrs Tatham told the PA news agency.

“It's the worst thing that can happen to you. I couldn't think of anything worse to go through.

“It's a situation where you don't really know how to feel because you don't know how the future is going to play out and you have to stay optimistic and positive for your son.”

Many children waiting for organs such as a heart, lungs or intestine rely on a transplant from another child in order for the organ to be the right size and strength for what their body needs.

“It's been six months of hell, torture, because we know how rare these organs are and in particular his demand for organs is much rarer because they have to be from a child of a similar size,” Mr Tatham said.

The couple began putting plans in motion for the Waiting To Live campaign in May after feeling “helpless” at the news that Ralph needed a multi-organ transplant.

With the help of marketing agency Wunderman Thompson UK, where Ms Tatham works, and a host of crafters and suppliers across the country, the campaign was completed in just a few months, a feat the couple said was “incredible”.

Four of the dolls, including one for Ralph, will be placed at Great Ormond Street Hospital in central London, which has supported the Waiting To Live campaign and where many of the children involved receive care.

“For someone to donate organs, it's an incredibly brave and valuable thing to do and this campaign is about people thinking ahead,” Ms Tatham said.

“If you're in that position, you have the opportunity to save another child's life, or even the lives of many children, and I think it's realizing how important and special that gift is.

“We want this to be a positive thing and we hope to encourage people to see organ donation as something wonderful.”

The couple also hope the campaign will “normalise” the debate around child organ donation.

The hope is, if nothing else, to save lives at the end of the day

Graham Tatham

Mrs Tatham said: “If you were at your worst, there's one small thing that could comfort you and save another child's life.”

Mr Tatham said he “really loved” knowing that the other 230 families across the UK “could see such a fantastic campaign come to life” and see children's organ donation “in the spotlight”.

“The hope is, if nothing else, to save lives at the end of the day,” he said.

Jodie Woolford, 32, whose two-year-old daughter Amelia has been waiting for a heart transplant for more than a year, told the PA she feels “comforted” by her family's involvement in the Waiting To Live campaign.

“It's comforting to know there are families like mine. It's comforting to know Amelia isn't the only child but it's so sad,” she said.

“It's heartbreaking to know there are 200 children waiting for a donor.”

Mrs Woolford said her daughter could only receive a heart from a child up to the age of eight because she needed a similar-sized organ donor.

“It's been a roller coaster,” he said. “It's been ups and downs.”

She said she “never thought about organ donation” until she found herself in this situation and now her family, including her 10-month-old daughter Blossom, are on the NHS organ donor register.

“Sometimes there just isn't enough awareness about it. People don't talk and don't want to make the decision on the spot,” he said.

“We just know there are other kids out there waiting for these organs.

“Your loss can be someone else's gift.”