Lovingly holding Johne Johnson’s hand for the last time, wife Debbie and her family remember the moment as a symbol of hope despite their overwhelming sadness at losing him.
It was their last photograph before Johne was taken away to have his organs removed for donation after suffering a fatal brain haemorrhage.
Debbie, 45, of Heeley Road, St Annes, explains: “I always loved Johne’s hands and they were very special to me.
“I am a proper romantic and big softie and I always thought my hands fitted perfectly with his.
“Before Johne had to leave us for organ donation, I knew we needed a picture of all of our hands together.
“The photo shows Johne’s hand with my hand, the hands of my three children and the hand of Johne’s daughter from his previous marriage Frankie who is 22.”
Johne, 54, who was a builder, had always been healthy and well but Debbie revealed Johne predicted he would die at the age of 54 after his own dad died at the same age.
Debbie, who had been together with Johne for seven years, would have been celebrating her third wedding anniversary on May 5 2015.
Instead, almost three years to the day, she walked down the same aisle as her wedding day with her husband’s coffin.
Debbie explains: “Johne’s dad died when he was 54 and Johne thought he would die at the same age and often talked to me about it.
“When Johne and I got together, he brought up my children Lucy, now 14 and Jordan, now 13 as his own and we had Jack together, who is now six.
“When Johne was 53, he said: ‘I’ve not got long now’ but I told him not to be silly as he wasn’t going to die and that Jack needed him as did we all.”
Johne had shown no signs of ill health until April 2015 when he had been suffering headaches for about three weeks. However, he thought they were just caused by stress.
Debbie recalls: “Johne didn’t really think anything of the headaches, but on the Friday, he had a bit of a blackout so I took him to the doctors.
“The doctor checked him over and told us to come back on the Monday for more tests including blood tests and an ECG.
“However, Johne died on the Saturday. It was a huge shock to everyone.”
Debbie, a manager of a cafe in St Annes, was with Johne at the time of his death. On the Saturday morning, he told her he was feeling exhausted so she gave him a painkiller and told him to try and get some rest.
Debbie remembers: “Johne told me he couldn’t sleep as all sorts of things were going on inside his head. I wish I’d asked him what sorts of things were going through his mind.
“I then told Johne I was going shopping and would only be a couple of hours and would be back about 3pm.
“At 3.05pm, Johne rang me and said he felt sick. I told him I was only five minutes away.
“When I got home, I went upstairs and found Johne keeled over on the bed and his T-shirt was wet through.
“He said: ‘Debs, I am gone’ but I told him to keep breathing and I put him into the recovery position and waited for the ambulance to arrive.
“Johne’s breathing was going and as I was looking at him, the colour was draining out of his body and I knew things weren’t looking good.”
Johne was taken to hospital where doctors told the family they suspected he had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and sadly nothing more could be done for him.
Medics asked Debbie if the family had considered organ donation and told her Johne was registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
Debbie says: “It was such a horrendous time and I was trying to absorb the information that my husband was dead.
“I felt like my heart had been ripped out and was in total shock and could not believe what had suddenly happened.
“It felt so surreal and sad.
“Until the subject of organ donation was broached, I had not really thought about it.
“Even though Johne had talked about his fear of dying at the age of 54, we had not discussed organ donation.
“Being told that he was on the organ donor register made the decision easier. I felt we were fulfilling Johne’s wishes and we agreed to his organs being donated.”
Debbie says even at the moment of intense grief, she recalls getting some solace from knowing her husband’s organs would be making a massive difference to someone else’s life.
Debbie says: “I remember thinking: ‘While I am here now, somebody at this moment in time is receiving a telephone call telling them that doctors have an organ which will either save or dramatically improve their life.
“I realised that as hard as it was for us going through such pain and loss, that it was a good thing that something so positive and amazing could come out of a tragedy.
“You don’t realise how many people are waiting for organ transplants and what a huge impact organ donation can make on their lives.”
Before Johne was taken to have his organs removed for donation, the photograph featuring his hand with the hands of his wife and children was taken and it is an emotional image which they treasure.
Debbie says: “We know that somebody received Johne’s pancreas and another person received a kidney and someone else received a heart valve.
“Losing Johne was terrible and since his death, I wasn’t sleeping properly and I kept having dreams about him.
“I wish Johne was still here, but he is not and nothing can change that.
“But it does make me feel better knowing that other people have gained from our loss and that Johne’s organs went to helping other people.
“It is heartening to know that there are families out there who are not going through the pain that we went through because Johne’s organs are helping them keep their loved ones for longer.
“I feel like part of me died with Johne and I haven’t been the same since losing him.
“Johne was just such a lovable guy and was a very funny man who was always cracking jokes and he was a real people’s person.
“If someone asked him, he would have given them the shirt off his back as that was the type
of kind person he was.
“I know organ donation is what he would have wanted and even though I would sooner have Johne, I do feel some comfort from knowing he is helping other people even after death.”