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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

PHA launches powerful photographic exhibition to raise awareness of paediatric organ donation

Dáithí Mac Gabhann pictured unveiling his portrait, with dad Máirtín, and award-winning photographer Debbie Todd who captured the images of the children in an exhibition created by Red Sky Foundation.

Dáithí Mac Gabhann pictured unveiling his portrait, with dad Máirtín, and award-winning photographer Debbie Todd who captured the images of the children in an exhibition created by Red Sky Foundation. (Image: Mal McCann)

Poignant and thought-provoking images of children waiting for ONE phone call which will change their lives will now be display for public viewing in Belfast. 

Arranged to coincide with the first anniversary of the change in law to an opt-out system of organ donation, the exhibition features Dáithí Mac Gabhann who has been waiting for the gift of a new heart since 2018. 

The 1 June will also mark 6 years since he was added to the list. During this time his family have worked tirelessly to campaign for a move towards soft opt-out law and to promote organ donation.

The law means, in the event that organ donation is a possibility after you die, it will be considered that you agree to being an organ donor unless you choose to opt out or are in an excluded group.

Award-winning photographer Debbie Todd captured the images of the children in an exhibition created by Red Sky Foundation, a charity which raises vital funds for babies, children and adults, who are born with or develop heart conditions and who are in need of cardiac care, by providing lifelong support to them and their families.  

Dáithí Mac Gabhann pictured unveiling his portrait, with dad Máirtín, and award-winning photographer Debbie Todd who captured the images of the children in an exhibition created by Red Sky Foundation

As part of its work in raising awareness of organ donation, the Public Health Agency has brought the exhibition to Northern Ireland so allowing Dáithí to be featured.

The powerful images depict that while some of the children sit patiently waiting for the phone call that will save their lives, others have already had their prayers answered offering a life-saving donor organ.  They all have one thing in common, the hope for a bright future following a successful transplant.

Across the UK, there are over 7,000 people in need of a transplant and who are awaiting the gift of life through organ donation.  241 of these are children – waiting for ‘The Call’.  There were just 35 paediatric donations in the last year in the UK (1 June 2023 to 16 May 2024), and only 158 paediatric transplants received by UK / NI patients. 

The acute need for organs for donation in children is demonstrated most clearly by those requiring an urgent heart transplant – their waiting period is 2.5 times longer than adults on average.

“The Call” exhibition collection arose from Debbie joining forces with Red Sky Foundation to use the images to trigger conversations around child organ donation.  After launching the exhibition in Sunderland, the exhibition images were also featured on a national billboard campaign, so raising awareness of the 'gift of life' offered by organ donation. 

The images were seen across all major UK cities thanks to the Red Sky Foundation charity securing funding from Smart Outdoor as part of a national marketing campaign, with added support from telecoms super brand EE and Fujifilm. 

Debbie commented on the exhibition saying:

“I hope that the photographs will encourage the many people who see them to discuss whether they would accept a donated organ to save their child.  And, if so, would they give the gift of life to another child?”

In preparation of the special exhibition Dáithí has been photographed holding the symbolic red telephone in his home city of Belfast, with his image then being displayed among the other children at the launch on Friday evening. 

The exhibition will stay in place for public viewing for 2 weeks at 2 Royal Avenue, Belfast which is a new cultural venue that Belfast City Council have transformed to play host to artistic experiences, events and workshops.  

Attending the launch are Red Sky Foundation founders Sergio and Emma Petrucci who both recently received MBE’s from King Charles for their services to health and communities in North East England. Their work has been instrumental in helping people living with complex heart conditions and their charity has seen exponential growth which is now taking their organ donation campaign across the UK.  

Sergio explained the origins of The Call:

“Our plan from the very beginning was to shine a light on families needing our help. We’re easing the pressure and making a positive change to how children needing organ donors will receive the best access to treatment and state of the art machinery. This latest part of our journey in Northern Ireland will give us further opportunities to increase awareness to help families in their times of need.”

Aidan Dawson, Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency, congratulated all involved with the artwork saying:

“The Call” will give hope to many families on the waiting list for an organ transplant.  The conversations generated by this exhibition will help to open up the sensitive topic of paediatric organ donation, and aims to encourage families to consider registering decisions for the whole family.”

Máirtín Mac Gabhann, father of 7-year old Dáithí understandably spoke with passion about the exhibition:

"We are incredibly proud that Dáithí is part of 'The Call' exhibition, highlighting the urgent need for paediatric organ donation. Our son Dáithí has been waiting for a new heart for six of his seven years — a heart-wrenching journey that has been filled with stress and uncertainty. Children like Dáithí wait around 2.5 times longer than adults for the gift of a transplant and face a higher risk of dying while on the waiting list.

“Joining the NHS Organ Donor Register as a whole family, regardless of age, is a courageous decision. While it may seem like a lot to ask, it is our only option as organ donation is the last resort and the only lifesaving gift that people on the waiting list can receive. We deeply thank the Red Sky Foundation for their support with The Call Exhibition and their crucial work in raising awareness about paediatric organ donation.

“Though Dáithí is now featured in 'The Call', our family eagerly hopes for the day we receive that life-changing call. We have been campaigning for years now around organ donation and firmly believe that together, we can all make a huge difference and give children like Dáithí a chance at a brighter future."

You can register an organ donation decision for everyone in your family at  Whatever you decide, remember discuss it with loved ones. 


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