Tissue donors are now being honoured with a special award

People from across the UK, who save lives or give hope through the gift of tissue donation, are being posthumously honoured.

22 October 2021

Tissue donation is when corneas (the clear layer at the front of the eye), skin, heart valves, tendons, arteries and bone are donated after death. A tissue donor can potentially help more than 50 people.

Those who donate their tissue after death are being recognised with the Order of St John Award for Tissue Donation. This is run in conjunction with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), like the award given posthumously to solid organ donors, which is presented to families and loved ones on their behalf.

HRH Prince Richard, The Duke of Gloucester, Grand Prior of the Order of St John, officially launched the tissue donation awards recently at a moving private ceremony held at the Priory Church of the Order of St John in London. The ceremony was attended by five tissue donor families, members of NHSBT’s Tissue Advisory Group (representing all tissue donor families to mark the official launch of the scheme) and representatives of the Order of St John and NHSBT.

Around 3,500 people each year donate their tissue after death to help others, and their families are now being offered an award in their loved one’s name - a special certificate which they will receive by post. So far more than 2,000 tissue donors have been honoured in this way.

Diana's family legacy

It’s something tangible for families... I hope [the awards] will prompt conversations about tissue donation
Diana Comfort

Donor family member

Diana Comfort (pictured below with her Son Owain, receiving awards on behalf of relatives) was one of the donor family members in attendance. Her family have left a remarkable tissue donation legacy, with three members of her family becoming tissue donors. Diana accepted three awards after her daughter, Laura, 18, husband, Derek, 65 and dad, Rowland, 94, sadly died and donated tissue to help others.

Diana and son Owain Comfort, who received awards on behalf of three relativesDiana, aged 72 from Kent, says: “Having spoken about organ and tissue donation as a family, I knew their wishes, so agreeing to donation was therefore made so much easier.

“To know that my three family members have been able to help restore sight for seven different people greatly helped us come to terms with their deaths. To be able to receive the gift of sight is amazing. The need for sight is sadly so great, yet the gift of sight so priceless. Laura also donated skin and bone to help others, which has brought us great comfort.

“I think the tissue donor awards are a lovely idea, it’s something tangible for families and personally I’ll be hanging them on my wall. I hope they will prompt conversations about tissue donation, I’m passionate about spreading the word.

“I had mixed emotions at the event, it was very humbling and special and it brought back memories. I’m very proud of Laura, Derek and my dad.”

More about the Order of St John Award for Tissue Donation

The award certificate features the Maltese Cross - which is used by the Order of St John, and includes the message: The Order of St John is pleased to award and dedicate the insignia of national recognition to the cherished memory of (the donor) for the selfless contribution of adding life and giving hope to others from the gift of tissue donation. The award is sent to the family privately.

Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis CBE KStJ DL, Prior of the Priory of England and the Islands of the Order of St John, said: “We are very pleased to be deepening our relationship with NHS Blood and Transplant with the launch of this new award for tissue donation. The impact that donations of this type can have is amply demonstrated by the inspiring stories of the families who were with us to receive recognition on behalf of their loved ones, whose donation should rightly be applauded.

“I too urge anyone to sign up for the NHS Organ Donor Register and tell their family they have done so. By making such a simple decision you could ultimately improve the lives of many other people.”

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “It has been very moving to be able to officially launch our tissue donor awards. It is very important to recognise the gift of life and hope that each tissue donor and their family has given.

“It was a privilege to hear about the tissue donors’ stories from their families, and to see how proud those families were to receive this award on their behalf. Through the award we recognise the life-saving and improving difference tissue donors make, from restoring a person’s sight to providing skin to help those who are badly burned or saving someone’s life through the transplanting of heart valves.

“Every tissue donor in the UK can now be recognised and we hope their families will take pride and comfort in their loved one’s amazing contribution.

“One tissue donor can potentially help up to 50 people. Please talk to your family and tell them if you want to donate tissue or organs to help others after your death.”

Special recognition for Birmingham couple's campaign work

A special recognition award was also presented to David and Jane Nix for all their work to promote tissue and organ donation and support donor families. Their daughter Rebecca was a multi-tissue donor after her death in a road traffic collision in America at the age of 21. Inspired by her they helped found the Donor Family Network in 1997, a national charity that supports tissue and organ donor families in the UK and raises awareness of tissue and organ donation.

David Nix smiling, with the award presented to him and his wifeDavid says “I think it’s important to recognise both tissue and organ donors so it was great to be at the official launch of the tissue awards.

“Tissue donation can save and enhance lives, whether it is one cornea donated or everything possible, it has such an impact on patients and their family and friends.

“The special recognition award is all because of Rebecca, it was a big surprise  - you don’t do it for recognition, rewards or awards. It reinforces Rebecca’s legacy and I accept it because hopefully it will encourage more people to become organ and tissue donors.

“Myself and Jane, and our son Stuart, get a lot of comfort from Rebecca’s donation and it was the right thing to do. She helped 74 people and it’s not just about the people she gave that chance of a quality of life to, but their families and friends - she’s made such an impact on so many people and we’re very proud of her.”

The Order of St John Awards for Tissue Donation compliment the Order of St John Awards for Organ Donation, which have been running since 2013.

Get more information about the Order of St John Awards for Organ Donation

The tissue donation awards started in summer 2019. All tissue and organ donors are now being honoured with an award to recognise their life-saving gift, which their families receive on their behalf. There are more than 5,000 tissue and organ donors a year in the UK – around 3,500 tissue donors and more than 1,500 organ donors.