I think we all knew Debbie was special. She was popular, down to earth and forever on the go; she fitted so much into those 31 years more than some people do in a lifetime. It was really after she died that we suddenly realised just how amazing she was. There were so many stories of people that she had helped. From volunteering with St John Ambulance or working with The Legion of Mary, helping build a school in Uganda or decorating a friend’s kitchen, she really cared about others. Debbie got a first class degree in biochemistry and biology and went on to do a teaching degree. She briefly considered medicine and medical research but at the time felt God say ‘No you’ve got to be a teacher’, so she went straight into teaching. It’s a tough profession in many ways and she struggled for the first few years but she soon found her niche as a science teacher in a secondary school in Basildon. She loved it and they loved her. At 5ft 2” Deb was fairly short but she was great with the older boys. These lads that no one could control towered above her but her quiet manner meant that she was really good with them. She was passionate about supporting the troubled or vulnerable kids and did specialist training to help those dealing with dyslexia. When she died, the pupils were distraught. Her headmaster even did an interview on radio, singing her praises like we couldn’t believe. In 2011, Debbie did a charity 800 mile cycle ride on her own in memory of a school friend who died of a brain tumour. When she was killed she was doing a practice run for a similar cycle she planned to do with a friend in 2013 in Italy. Being Debbie she was trying to get everything right beforehand. She had gone camping on her own and, although it was April, it was bitterly cold at the time. We were worried about her getting hypothermia in her tent but she was so practical and organised she had invested in a good sleeping bag and equipment so we knew she’d be fine. A trip like this was fairly normal for her; she was so adventurous. Having travelled to so many places it seemed like she had friends everywhere. On this occasion she had cycled up to Walsingham in Norfolk, took two overnight camping stops on the way, visited a beautiful shrine she loved and then was on her way home when the accident happened.
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“On the day of the accident I had gone out with my husband to try and find an outfit for my son’s wedding. We were really looking forward to the big day but for some reason I just wasn’t in the mood to go out. It was so unlike me but that day I simply did not want to try on dresses so we ended up coming home empty handed. Later that evening we got ready to go out for my son’s birthday meal but I still didn’t feel quite right and remember thinking I’ve got to snap out of this because it’s his birthday. We went to the restaurant and as my son and daughter-in-law arrived my mobile phone went. I’d already texted Debbie about an hour before to say I loved her lots and hoped to hear from her soon. When my mobile rang it was Deb’s number but there was nobody there and I thought she was obviously having trouble getting through because of a bad signal. Then it went again and in the end I managed to ring her and I called out 'Deb, Deb!’ but a man‘s voice answered and I told him he had my daughter’s phone. He replied 'It’s PC…' at which point I just shouted out 'NO!' He said "I’m afraid your daughter has been in a serious car accident' and asked to speak to someone that was calm." I felt like I could deal with it so I carried on talking to him while my husband got a pen out and wrote down all the details of where the accident was. He hadn’t meant to call me on her phone and was just looking for the last number dialled and called me by accident. I’m so glad he got me. He basically told us to come as soon as we could so we left the restaurant immediately, rushed home and packed everything as we knew that ‘serious accident’ really did mean serious or dead. As soon as we were able we drove to Addenbrooke’s Hospital where she had been airlifted to. As we were travelling up to the hospital a bible verse came into my head, ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’. I think I knew then that she wasn’t going to make it. God gave us our daughter for 31 years and when you think about it 31 years is a long while. When she was 18 she cycled a lot at University and one day as she was going round a roundabout, a lorry pulled out and didn’t see her. There was nothing she could do and nowhere to go so she thought that’s it my life’s ending and she closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes she was on the other side of the lorry. She had no answer to how it could have possibly happened other than a complete miracle. All she could say was that God didn’t want her to go, he had too much for her to do. It didn’t stop her cycling though which was typical Deb! I’d have liked to have her for the rest of my life but it was better than not having her at all. She was a daughter we had so wanted and we were very close.”
We arrived at the hospital to find that she was still alive but in a very serious condition and we needed to quickly identify her. Then they took her down to the operating theatre and did everything they could because she was so young and fit. They gave the impression that they did the same at the scene of the accident. She had a chance of survival that someone older may not have had in that condition. We began to piece together the accident, although there were no witnesses so nobody knows exactly what happened. It turns out she was cycling along the road and an elderly man came from the opposite direction. It seems that he passed out or had a heart attack but must’ve been unconscious as he came around the bend and ploughed straight into her on the wrong side of the road. He didn’t brake and carried on up the kerb and hit a tree. She was probably thrown onto his bonnet, then carried to where he hit the tree and thrown off. From the amount of brain damage she sustained she would have been unconscious for most of it and we knew immediately that she was in God’s hands. A lovely lady came along soon after, and as the first person on the scene, she was ideal. She knew exactly what to do and had all the right training as a first aider, managing the situation until the professionals arrived. They didn’t find Debbie straight away, they found the man in the car first as he was across the road and she was in a grass verge behind the tree. The woman saw the bike after the car and sent someone to look for who it belonged to. When they found Debbie she went to help her doing what she could and releasing her helmet to help her breathe. Unfortunately despite their attempts to resuscitate the elderly man he died at the scene. They operated that evening on Debbie and had to remove a large section of her skull to relieve the pressure but her brain was still swelling. After yet another bleed they couldn’t do any more for her. They rang us at 1am to say that she had survived the operation but then rang again at 6am and asked us to come and see them. We met with the doctors and they explained that they had done all they could but unfortunately her injuries were unsurvivable.
Immediately we knew that we had to give her organs and when they checked she was on the register. As a family it turns out we were all on the register and had probably talked about it at some stage. Knowing the sort of person she was, we just knew she would be on the register. She was generous in all ways and so it was the first thing we thought about. They used her corneas and lungs and she helped three people. A girl in her 20’s with cystic fibrosis received a double lung transplant after being on the waiting list for 6 months. Given that those waiting for a lung transplant have one of the highest chances of never receiving that life saving opportunity this was such good news. A young man and woman both in their 20’s also went on to receive her corneas and a number of organs that couldn’t be used for transplant were used for medical research. Incredibly some of that research was looking at how to improve transplantation. The transplant team at the hospital were brilliant, they explained everything so well and made sure we understood the ways in which her organs could be used. We were able to take as long as needed to talk it through and make our decisions and we didn’t feel pressured in any way. They were always there for us and really kind. Even though they didn’t know how we felt, at times it felt like they did, so they must have had good training. The whole process was really thorough giving us the opportunity to consent for each organ and how it could be used. Afterwards they sent us information about how her organs were used and even now we can phone up any time we want to talk. Giving her organs was such a positive thing to do amidst our grief as it felt like such a waste that she died at that point in her life. Debbie had helped so many people and had so much left to give. Knowing that she continued to help others in death was quite a comfort to all of us. Our advice to any family is to talk to each other about being on the register so that it doesn’t come as a shock to anyone when the time comes. Most of all though give; we’d have regretted it later if we didn’t. In time it still feels like you gave such a precious gift.
Debbie's Experience written by Joy and David Rooke (Debbie's parents) and Carol Mountier (Debbie's Aunt).