The term hero often makes one think of a strapping fire fighter or life guard helping people or saving lives. A year on that is exactly what Bryn Magree, a young 17 year old, qualified life saver, continues to be to many people. Read his incredible story below (published in July 2017) or click here to scroll down to Janine Magree’s latest update .
THE morning after my son’s aneurysm ruptured and he had been declared brainstem dead, I passed my dressing table, eyes swollen from crying. There, in plain view, lay a snippet of card from a tea carton, with two roses printed on it. Some months prior to this, I had helped him, as I had often done before, to cut out items to add to an art project, and thought I had discarded the scraps. I took the roses to be a sign of Bryn’s love and that he was at peace.
Just hours before, I had broached the subject with doctors of donating his organs after realising there was little hope of his recovery. Bryn’s dad, Brett, and I had received a phonecall the previous afternoon from his brother, Kian, telling us to come quickly, as Bryn had collapsed at the local gym. When we arrived, he was receiving CPR from a schoolfriend, Milan, whose efforts in such traumatic circumstances, we can never repay. It was over an hour before the ambulance arrived and Bryn’s heart had stopped, but the youngster had been there from the moment Bryn collapsed and he had soldiered on even though the situation did not look good.
The paramedics, in turn, managed to kickstart Bryn’s heart and transported him, via ambulance, to King Edward Hospital as we had recently cancelled our medical aid cover and could not afford private health care. Although the ward he was admitted was in sore need of a coat of paint and this was no state of the art hospital, the medical staff were excellent, explaining every step of the processes being followed and doing whatever they could for him. He could not have received better care than these professionals provided.
Ultimately, having exhausted all avenues, Bryn was transferred to ICU at around 10pm, where his heart stopped once more, and was again kickstarted. It was then that we approached two of the doctors, to ask whether tests could be conducted to ascertain whether Bryn was brainstem dead, so a decision might be made regarding organ donation. (I knew of another young boy whose organs were not been viable for donation as the wait for a response to treatment had been too long.) The doctors were shocked I’d raised the subject, and when I asked why, they answered that they were reluctant to address organ donation, as many families were against the idea. It stands to reason Bryn’s being a young boy probably made it doubly contentious.
I explained my reasoning that if he were to die without his organs having been procured for transplant, it would be a terrible waste, and asked that the younger of the doctors, who had been genuinely empathetic, explain to the large group of friends who had gathered in the hallway, why this option had been chosen so soon. Incredibly, our family had discussed organ donation around the dinner table several months before and agreed it was a practical decision which would help others. As Bryn pointed out at the time, “What am I going to do with my organs when I’m dead?”
The discussion had been prompted by a Facebook post about Matthew Legemaate’s need for a heart and double lung transplant. Seeing that there was no cost involved – a common misconception is that you pay to sign up – I registered immediately, having always believed in the cause. At the hospital, I queried whether it would be possible to test for compatibility with Matthew, but as expected, was told it was not. However, this decision would bring him one rung closer to receiving the organs he desperately needed, so the co-ordinator was called to the hospital and arrangements made to transfer Bryn to Albert Luthuli where two teams would procure the organs, bone and tissue.
Our family went home for three hours’ sleep and woke up to the devastating realisation we would be going to the hospital to say goodbye to our beautiful 17-year-old. It hurt like hell and it still does, but we have the consolation of knowing his fit young body was used to help others. What I did not know, at the time, was that by agreeing to donate not only organs, but tissue, bone and corneas, Bryn was helping as many as 60 people.
What is also wonderful for us is that his contribution also allows us to talk about our son. It may be something people shy away from, but having loved him for 17 years, why would we want to brush the memories under the carpet and pretend he never existed?
Bryn was a cuddly blonde baby with a radiant smile, he was raised the old-school way to to believe that manners maketh man and no matter that some family friends objected, he referred to them all, with true Saffa-respect as “Uncle” and “Auntie”. He grew up to be a good looking lad, often joking that “chicks dig me”. And who would’ve blamed them? He was blonde, blue-eyed and laidback. With his longer-than-school-regulation blond fringe-flick and cool moves, he stood out in a crowd and he delighted in using his so-called “swagger” to hype up the schoolboy spectators cheering on their first rugby XV.
A bit of a risk-taker, he would skateboard down to the end of the cul de sac with pals, Connor, Dyl, Carrick, Ross and others at around 70-odd km/hr an hour, and he fearlessly leapt off the cliff at Inanda Dam, a jump most people would find pretty daunting. Bryn fiercely loved his brother, Kian – younger by 13 months – who regularly lost the clothes he borrowed from him, but no doubt also covered for him on more than a few occasions when he went out to places he shouldn’t have whilst visiting friends.
Bryn loved sports, including soccer, rugby, swimming, waterpolo, surfing and lifesaving. Hip hop dancing also formed part of his life for a few years and he performed in a couple of dramatic and dance productions, where he shone onstage. If there’d been more time in the day, he would probably have continued dancing as he had the moves and enjoyed the limelight, but rugby became his passion and so hip hop fell by the wayside.
Bryn loved music and though not in his friend Jordan’s league, the two of them planned to rock the forthcoming school cultural evening with a song they had been practicing prior to his death, “Say You Won’t Let Go”, by James Arthur. Bryn undoubtedly spent more time with his guitar than he ever did with his schoolbooks, so it was fitting that the song was played by Jordan at Bryn’s memorial services and at the cultural evening some weeks later, where it received a standing ovation.
Bean, as he was nicknamed by our family, was also good with little children and attracted a following of youngsters. Once, after working a shift at a local restaurant, he told the story of how a generous fellow had given him an unheard-of R100 tip for busing his table simply because he’d paid a bit of attention to the man’s young son.
Despite his habit of leaving projects to the eleventh hour, Bryn was a talented artist, and adored by his art teachers. What we, his parents only discovered after his sudden death, when another boy’s mother messaged them to express her condolences, was that he had also mentored younger boys, helping them to improve their own art.
And when a youngster fresh from senior primary accidentally dropped the contents of his pencil case in the first weeks of high school, we were told in a touching note, that he had stopped and bent down to help the junior pick up every last item of stationery, whilst others simply continued on their way.
Bryn made us, his parents and brother, Kian, proud in so many ways. He was generous, kind, bore no grudges, had a dry sense of humour and was determined to achieve his goals – this determination has been captured in a photo given to the family by the Marine Surf Lifesaving Club and in photos taken on the rugby field. He captained the waterpolo team and was generally well-liked by his peers and coaches.
In spite of a sunny demeanour though, Bryn was not a morning person and struggled to rise and shine, which necessitated being roused several times by his father before he would stagger out of bed. He procrastinated and he took ages to vacate the bathroom. Occasionally, he would be yelled at for holding up supper.
But we would gladly endure these minor irritations if we could only turn back time.
If we managed to spare another family this heartache, then we are glad we made the decision to donate what would, at the end of the day, have ended up being cremated in any case.
Our boy was more than just his body and we know we’ll be together again in time.
2 February 2018 -A note from a grieving mom.
Acts speak louder than words, as our Bryn demonstrated through his obvious love for young children and animals, his willingness to help with dinner, or make coffee without being asked, his organising of lifts for friends when they had no way of getting home and risked parental wrath, and his helping a junior at his school pick up the contents of a scattered pencil case just weeks before he died.
Please help us honour him by showing someone a kindness today – give a small thoughtful gift you’ve made; offer assistance in carrying someone’s bags; pay for a stranger’s coffee; give a compliment and register as an organ and tissue donor. Please remember to tell your family and friends. Where possible become a blood and platelet donor too. You may just be responsible for saving lives.
Whatever you do, do it with love. ❤
Bryn Magree (17/01/2000 – 02/02/2017)