Brave Sheree: My final wish to help others
THEY were heartfelt letters that Sheree Bell must have desperately hoped her mother, brother and partner would never have to read.
But they have ensured that the memory of the inspirational 22-year-old, who died following a failed heart transplant, will live on after the devastated recipients vowed to respect her final wish to carry on her work.
Sheree wrote the letters months ago and left them with her partner of two-and-a-half years, Paul Johnson, with the instructions that they were to be opened only if she lost her battle with a rare condition called Noonan Syndrome, which she suffered from since birth.
Through the letters, she told her family to continue her efforts to raise money for the British Heart Foundation and to encourage others to sign the organ donor register.
Sheree died last month, two days after complications arose following the heart transplant that was supposed to save her life.
Her distraught mum, June McLeod, said today that she would never get over the death of her daughter, who she described as a “smiling angel”.
“Sheree was always thinking about other people, even through her illness,” she said. “She was an inspiration. Through everything she kept her smile.
“I never thought in my wildest nightmares that this would be the outcome. It never entered my head. But it obviously did with Sheree as she left letters which made it clear she wanted her fundraising to carry on.”
Noonan Syndrome can cause a variety of symptoms and, at the age of 12, doctors found that Sheree had an abnormal heart valve.
In 2009, cardiologists found that her heart was flooding her spleen and liver with blood, leaving both organs swollen.
Sheree, from Carrick Knowe, was forced to give up her job at a British Gas call centre in early 2011 as her condition worsened. By October last year the former Carrick Knowe Primary School and Forrester High School pupil could barely walk 20 yards without pausing for breath and began to rely on a wheelchair to get around.
She was told that she needed a heart transplant last autumn, and got the call to say a perfect match had become available in the early hours of June 22. An ambulance was dispatched to take Sheree to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank.
“We were nervous and upset, but she was comforting me,” June said. “Because we didn’t think she was on the emergency list we weren’t prepared. She was saying ‘it’s fine, this is what we’re waiting on’. Sheree said ‘I’m scared, mum’, but she coped with it because that was her. She said ‘I know I’m doing the right thing’.”
The new heart was transplanted, but it did not beat as it should have done. Surgeons also struggled to stop internal bleeding. Doctors battled desperately to save her life, but Sheree died on June 24 after it became clear there was no chance of recovery and her mother agreed to allow doctors to turn off life-support machines.
“They worked tirelessly on her,” June added. “At first they thought it was fine but then they couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. It’s something I’ll never get over.”
Sheree left instructions for her own funeral, which was held on Monday. The 400 people who packed Mortonhall Crematorium dressed in bright colours to reflect Sheree’s personality, and she was cremated in a pink coffin in a civil service to celebrate her life. A collection for the British Heart Foundation raised £900.
Those closest to her will now focus on continuing her legacy of fundraising and spreading awareness of organ donation.
Despite her health problems, Sheree raised £3400 at a charity event in The Ritz in South Gyle last November, used her Facebook page to inspire others to sign up to the organ donor register and spoke about her condition on national radio.
She was in the process of choosing a date for her next fundraising event before she died, despite being in constant pain and sleeping 12 hours a day because of her condition.
“The way she coped was unbelievable,” June added. “She was never down, always smiling and always wanting to do things for other people. Occasionally she would say ‘I’m just about fed up’ but two minutes later she would be joking and laughing. Her bravery and courage was just unbelievable.”
Members of her family and friends of Sheree will take part in a sponsored run on Sunday.
Sheree’s best friend, Jen Bruce, has organised a team to take part in a 10K run at Holyrood Park on October 21 and described her as a “bubbly, brave, beautiful individual”.
Sheree’s brother, Steven Bell, said his sister was “perfect”.
“She was the happiest person I ever met,” he said. “No matter what the situation she would always find the good in it.
“She knew she was going in for a heart transplant and that there was a chance she was never going to make it. But she still wanted everyone to know about it. An astounding number of people I know signed up to the organ donor register because of her.
“Everybody takes life for granted but she didn’t. She made time for everybody. People she met once turned up to the funeral. No-one will forget her.”
Barbara Osborne, head of volunteer fundraising at British Heart Foundation Scotland, also paid tribute to Sheree.
She said: “She was an exceptional person who impressed us with her great desire to raise money to help others, while she was living with her own heart health problems. We were extremely sad to hear she’d passed away and our thoughts are with her family and friends.”
• For more information on the 10K event or to sponsor the team running in memory of Sheree, visit www.justgiving.com/inlovingmemoryofsheree
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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