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Tourist who dies in India donates her organs to save 5 people

Teresa Maria Fernandez


Teresa on one of her trips

Merche Crespo - published on 04/03/23

Her children honored the retired doctor's wish to donate her organs, an act that shocked many people in India.

Teresa Fernández, a retired doctor from Spain, was on vacation in India last January. She loved to travel, sometimes alone and sometimes in a group. In fact, it was her fourth trip to India.

But this time, the day after arriving in Mumbai she suffered a stroke that left her in a coma. The story of what happened next was reported inEl Faro de Ceutaamong other news outlets in Spain and India.

In critical condition

The doctors at Jaslok Hospital, where she was admitted, contacted her children, Arturo and Aitana, to warn them of their mother’s critical condition. Her daughter, also a doctor by profession, consulted the scanner images sent to her by the Indian doctors and realized that the situation was indeed very serious.

So she and her brother immediately left Spain for India. Aitana recalls that “as soon as I saw her in bed in the ICU I knew she wasn’t going to wake up. We played songs by Louis Armstrong, classical music, (…) the voices of friends sending her strength … But nothing.”

Brain death and organ donation

Finally, Teresa died on January 11 in India after spending six days in a coma. Repeated medical tests confirmed her death.

At that point, her children informed the doctors that their mother wanted to donate her organs. She had always expressed a desire to be a donor, so although it was a difficult decision for them, they fulfilled her wish.

Aitana explained: “My mother had always said she wanted to donate her organs. So when we said it at the hospital, everything was simpler. The truth is that the Indian doctors were very surprised when I told them, as if it were strange. I commented to them that in Spain being an organ donor is very normal.”

In fact, the figures of the Spanish National Transplant Organization show that in 2022 there were 2,196 deceased organ donors in Spain (a rate of 46.3 per million inhabitants), but in India there were only 552 (0.4 cases per million citizens). Spain has been the world leader in organ donation for years.

Fears of organ trafficking

Unfortunately, however, India is the world’s organ trafficking paradise. There, trafficking rings have been dismantled in which people are trafficked from Nepal to be taken under duress or deception to India, to specific centers to transplant their organs to wealthy people who can afford to pay for them.

This fact made Teresa’s children very distrustful of the system. They began to have doubts. “The recipients will not pay for the organs, will they?” “There’s a waiting list of recipients and the most urgent cases will be attended first, right?” “The organs won’t go to the one who has the most money, right?” These are questions that came to their minds, but the replies from the medical team reassured them that things would be done right.

Only the second foreign donor

Finally, at midnight between January 11 and January 12, Teresa was taken to the operating room, and the next morning, to the cremation chamber.

As reported by The Hindustan Times newspaper and the National Organ & Tissue Transplant Organization of India, her lungs, liver, and kidneys were given to three Indian patients, while the heart was given to a Lebanese national and her liver to a 54-year-old doctor from Mumbai. In total, Teresa has prolonged the lives of 5 people.

The Indian national body that regulates organ donation bore tribute to Teresa and her family as an example to be followed.

She also donated her bones and tendons. Aitana proudly states that the family was even presented with a diploma, because Teresa has become the first donor from outside Asia and the second foreigner to donate organs in India. In 2019, a Nepalese citizen was the first international donor in the country.

News in the Asian country

Teresa made headlines in the Indian press after her death because her family fulfilled her wish to be an organ donor in a place where almost no one does it, and those who understand the value of this decision want to lift her up as an example.

The neurosurgeon who treated her at Jaslok Hospital, Dr. Sudheer Ambekar, stated that people should learn from the family who unhesitatingly donated the organs to strangers in a foreign country. “We didn’t even need to counsel them for donation as they themselves wanted to donate. They showed how humanity is not restricted within geographical boundaries, setting an example for all of us.”

Comforting gratitude

The gratitude with which the people have received their kind gesture in that country provides some comfort to Aitana and her brother. She recalls that “they’d even stop us in the elevator to thank us.”

She’s also grateful for the treatment received by all the staff at the hospital where they tried to save her mother’s life. But in the end what cheers and consoles her most are the 5 lives that her mother has been able to save.

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