At 13 years old, Jemima Layzell was just beginning to flower into a young woman. Tragically, however, she wouldn’t live to see her 14th birthday, so her parents can only guess at what their exceptional daughter could have become. And yet, due to a strange coincidence two weeks before her death, Jemima’s legacy now includes a remarkable world record.
Jemima was a schoolgirl from Horton, Somerset in the U.K. Her mother, Sophy Layzell, a 43-year-old drama teacher, described her daughter to the Daily Mail in September 2017 as “lovely – clever, funny, compassionate and creative.” The teenager had a particular passion for writing.
And as Jemima’s father, Harvey Layzell, would say to the Daily Mail, “She was just very happy growing up. She was blossoming. She was 13, a few months from being 14, and she had her whole life ahead of her.” What’s more, for all her parents could see, Jemima was healthy.
But on March 10, 2012, with Sophy preparing to celebrate her 38th birthday, her eldest daughter complained of a splitting headache. Then, Jemima suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness. The teenager was subsequently rushed to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children; tragically, however, she would die there four days later.
Jemima had suffered a brain aneurysm, and when it had ruptured she had passed out. That rupture had then caused a huge hemorrhage which eventually killed the 13-year-old. It was an event that Jemima’s parents couldn’t have prepared for, as aneurysms typically show no symptoms until they burst. What’s more, they are rare occurrences in children.
But while Sophy and Harvey were struggling to come to terms with the shocking and unexpected loss of their daughter, they were asked a key question. That is, doctors wanted to know if they would donate Jemima’s organs for transplant.
It was a difficult subject for mom and dad to think about. Harvey, perhaps understandably, was particularly ill at ease with the notion of donating his daughter’s heart. But then they recalled a conversation they had had with Jemima not long before her tragic death.
Just two weeks before Jemima passed away, the family had talked about organ donation. As Sophy explained to the Daily Mail, “The conversation was prompted by the death of someone we knew in a crash. They were on the register, but their organs couldn’t be donated because of the circumstances of their death.”
Until that conversation, organ donation wasn’t a concept with which Jemima was familiar. Her mom has even said that it was an idea that made her daughter slightly uneasy at first. But the intelligent teenager nonetheless realized how important it was and thus declared she would like to be a donor.
So, as the grief-stricken parents knew that Jemima wanted to help others, they opted to respect her wishes. And shortly afterwards, having watched a TV show about children at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital awaiting heart transplants, they felt sure that their life-saving decision had been the right one.
However, if Sophy and Harvey hadn’t realized then just how many other people had benefited from their daughter’s kindness, they would find out in 2017. That’s because NHS Blood and Transplant staff had researched which donor to date had helped the most people. And Jemima, it transpired, had set a new record.
It’s typical for an organ donor to help around two or three people in need of transplants; Jemima’s organs, however, went much further. NHS Blood and Transplant employees learned, in fact, that an incredible eight organ transplant patients had benefited from the teen’s desire to donate.
Three people were respectively the recipients of Jemima’s small bowel, pancreas and heart, while her kidneys were given to two different people. A further two people benefited when her liver was divided, while an eighth person, Ewan Smith, got another chance at life by receiving her lungs.
And it wasn’t only children’s lives that Jemima saved: she also helped a 19-year-old, a 24-year-old and a man aged 40. In fact, as well as assisting those eight individuals, she also helped restore the vision of three further people.
But although Jemima’s kindness could easily be perceived as heroic with hindsight, it didn’t make her parents’ loss any easier to bear at the time. How could this happen to their beloved daughter? So they went through Jemima’s belongings, seeking some closure.
And although they found no answers, they did find a number of notebooks, as Jemima had kept private diaries since she was four years old. For nearly a decade, the avid writer had been jotting down her thoughts on friendship, love and her future, filling 20 volumes in the process.
What’s more, Jemima’s writing had often been praised by her schoolteachers, who were amazed by her natural facility with language. So when Sophy struggled to find the right words to say at her daughter’s funeral, she turned to Jemima’s diaries. The response the family received, moreover, encouraged them to fulfil another of their daughter’s dreams.
After a year of readying them for publication, Jemima’s diaries took the shape of her very own book, titled The Draft. It was published through Amazon on May 21, 2013, on what would have been her 15th birthday. Profits from the book are split evenly between her younger sister, Amelia, and a trust set up in Jemima’s name.
The Layzells started The Jemima Layzell Trust to aid survivors of brain injuries. It’s believed that had Jemima survived her aneurysm, her communication skills would have been affected, and so the organization helps those with just such problems. In particular, it assists with rehabilitation and mental wellbeing for young people recovering from brain injuries.
Through the trust, Sophy, Harvey and Amelia hope to promote discussion about organ donation – often a taboo subject. Sophy told the BBC in September 2017, “Every parent’s instinct is to say no [to organ donation], as we are programmed to protect our child. It’s only with prior knowledge of Jemima’s agreement that we were able to say yes… We feel sure she would be very proud of her legacy.”