Dayna Clarke speaks to KENNETH ABELA, father of Drew Abela who, along with his family, set up the ‘Life after Drew’ organ donation campaign following Drew’s death
Three years ago, nearly to the day, my wife Sharon and I lost our son Drew after he suffered a brain haemorrhage. Before we were even asked to donate his organs, Sharon immediately requested that we do so.
We set up ‘Life after Drew’ as my wife Sharon wanted to create something that would become a legacy synonymous with our son Drew’s name. Since we experienced this first hand, we felt that we needed to create more awareness on the subject of organ donation, also acting as an education campaign in which people were encouraged to discuss this sensitive subject whilst simultaneously paying tribute to Drew and the many, many people who – like him – gave others a second chance of life.
How was the campaign received?
The campaign was very well received, and the original target was to reach 100,000 people with our message. This target was overwhelmingly surpassed, since even one interview on TVM news has that level of viewership, let alone the 93 interactions that have been held over the past months.
The campaign was a 360° one that included a multitude of television interviews, radio interviews, Facebook campaigns, Google campaigns, bus advertising, billboard advertising, newspaper interviews, a fine arts exhibition, a performing arts performance, promotional visits to Her Excellency The President of Malta and His Grace the Archbishop of Malta and visits to various schools and businesses, as well as online interviews.
The business community, as well as the general public, were deeply touched by Drew’s big heart and came together genuinely offering their support in myriad ways, which was quite heart-warming. Preparing for the campaign took twoand-a-half years. The actual campaign was condensed and, in the last two months, we have now been tapering it off to a conclusion.
Before the campaign started, registration was naturally very low, since legislation had just come into effect in December 2016. Today, there are over 20,000 people who have registered on the Organ Donors’ Register. Is it enough? It will never be enough, and we hope that this number continues to increase.
One of the biggest nightmares of any parent who loses a child is that their son/daughter will be forgotten. People are sometimes wary of mentioning Drew, thinking that doing so will bring about more pain. This impression could not be further from the truth. The sorrow felt when one loses a child is constant, it never leaves you, not for one moment, and we continuously try to live with this day by day. Talking about Drew will not increase our pain one single bit. On the contrary, it gives us encouragement that his memory lives on and seeing that people have come to know Drew through the campaign gives us strength.
How are you feeling now that the campaign is drawing to a close?
The campaign and the work involved have been very intense and, naturally, seeing that the result has been so overwhelming gives us a certain sense of accomplishment. The loss of a child brings about a deep, deep pain that a parent has to carry until his/her last breath. Days like today – Fathers’ Day, anniversaries, birthdays, even Christmas are always a degree harder than others, but with the support of each other, family and friends, we manage to live through especially by honouring his memory in myriad ways.
How will the work continue?
The efforts initiated by ‘Life after Drew’ will now continue through the hard work of the Transplant Support Group, which has been doing this sterling work for nearly 20 years. The TSG is well led by an inspiring and energetic James Muscat (President) and, on behalf of ‘Life after Drew’, we would like to thank him and his committee for their selfless devotion to this honourable cause.
There are so many people whom we would like to thank for their involvement in the campaign, namely the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation, in particular President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca for her endorsement and direct help during this campaign, as well as Prof. Carmel Borg for his instrumental assistance and direction. Gratitude also goes to some friends and family who anonymously pitched funds into this project. A big ‘thank you’ to Christine Grixti, who received Drew’s heart and who not only organised a birthday party to raise funds for ‘Life after Drew’ but who made herself entirely available for interviews throughout the campaign. A massive thank you goes to my sister Claire Galea, who singlehandedly designed and co-ordinated the marketing strategy for this campaign.
I would like to extend a big ‘thank you’ to the business community and MCAST who rallied around us by offering their valuable services free of charge. Another big ‘thank you’ goes to the people who listened to what we had to say and who registered as organ donors. You are all modern-day heroes.
And, finally, a big thank you to my two rocks, Sharon and Bobbie. You are my raison d’être.
Dearest Drew, I sincerely hope that we will meet and hug again. I love you and salute you king. #Legend.