x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Father's pride as dead son inspires organ donors

After Abdullah Abu Tawileh died of a stroke aged just 22, his organs were donated to other sick Jordanians, as he wished, sparking a rush of would-be donors.

A picture of Abdullah Abu Tawileh, whose organs, donated after his death, have helped five other Jordanians, has pride of place in his family's home in Amman.
A picture of Abdullah Abu Tawileh, whose organs, donated after his death, have helped five other Jordanians, has pride of place in his family's home in Amman.

AMMAN // Abdullah Abu Tawileh, who would have turned 22 today, died earlier this month, but his father, Issam, has never been prouder of his eldest son, who was in medical school, than now. As his son had wanted, after the young man died of a stroke Mr Tawileh donated Abdulla's corneas, kidneys and liver to five Jordanians desperately in need of organ transplants . Abdulla had collapsed at a taekwondo centre while working out, and on December 14, doctors at an Amman hospital told Mr Tawileh that his son was clinically dead.

"I asked a religious scholar if it was OK to remove the plugs," Mr Tawileh said, while holding a photo of Abdullah. "I didn't want him to suffer. And without thinking I told doctors I wanted to donate his organs." Mr Tawileh recalled a conversation in which Abdullah told him that he wanted to donate his organs when he died. Mr Tawileh dismissed the possibility saying that he could not even tolerate the thought of someone scarring his son's body.

While it remains rare in Jordan for families to donate the organs of their deceased family members despite efforts to promote organ donation, Abdullah's story caused widespread media attention. "We were sitting together and he told me 'Dad, if anything happens to me, I would like to help others.' I thought he was talking about giving his money to the poor, but he was talking about his organs. So I kicked him with my leg, teasing him the way I usually do," Mr Tawileh said.

After Abdullah's death, 6,600 Jordanians approached the Jordanian Society to Promote Organ Donation, which was established 14 years ago, expressing their desire to donate their organs when they die. "We are happy that others benefited from his organs and that by his death he changed the course of life for five others," Mr Tawileh said. "He has left his legacy behind and set an example for others to follow."

The organ donation society estimates 2,505 Jordanians are waiting for live-saving transplants - 190 for livers, 115 for hearts and the rest for kidneys. Another 2,400 are waiting for corneas. Abdullah's liver was the first in Jordan to be donated from a clinically dead person. Jordan was the first Arab country to declare a brain-dead person as legally dead in 1986, hoping it would encourage organ donation. While the number of donors is now between 250 and 300 a year, it falls way short in meeting the need.

Ahmed Shaker, deputy director of The Society to Promote Organ Donation, said: "The supply is short. We do not have a culture of organ donation due to the lack of awareness on how important they are in saving people's lives. "People do not understand what a brain-dead case means. There are also religious misconceptions on whether organised religion sanctions organ donation, even though we confirmed in several of our seminars it is an act of philanthropy and fatwas already authorised it.

Mr Shaker is also secretary general of the Eye Bank Society, which was established 30 years ago to promote cornea donations. "Sometimes people say how am I going to see when God revives me after death? Am I going to be without my eyes?" he said regarding the reluctance to donate corneas. As an example, Mr Shaker mentioned a bus accident last year during Ramadan that killed nine people. "We managed to get an approval from their families to donate their corneas. But we face hurdles at times from uneducated people who claim they are religious. One of the families asked such a scholar and he did not sanction the donation, so the transplants were cancelled."

People awaiting organ transplant are also placing financial constraints on the government. There are 3,000 patients undergoing kidney dialysis in the country, each costing the state US$19,000 (Dh69,796) annually. Mohammad Ghnaimat, the president of the Jordan Society of Nephrology, said half of these patients would benefit from a transplant. "If they have transplants, that will cost the government much less. A transplant with medication costs $20,000 for a kidney patient in the first year, while in the second year it will be only $2,400, he said.

"Last year 906 died in car accidents. If only 200 donated their organs, we would have 400 kidneys, we would be able to solve the kidney shortage," he said. Extolling the virtues of organ donation, Mr Tawileh said: "People do not donate because their sons are sacred to them. But I am proud of my son. What he got after his death is something he would not get in life." The Greater Amman Municipality has decided to name a street after Abdullah Tawileh in memory of his altruistic gesture and Queen Rania thanked his father in a letter.

"He was an excelling student who was going to graduate this year. He got so much praise from his friends that I didn't realise how popular he was at university and how much he was loved. His funeral procession was so huge. I wish I had known my son more," Mr Tawileh said. @Email:smaayeh@thenational.ae