April 15, 2024
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By Jade Beecroft

Lee-Anne collecting pieces while she participates in a dragon boat race for an air ambulance

Lee-Anne Schmitz assumed that her husband had pulled a back muscle when he complained of pain while renovating their Lisburn new home.

In the bedroom of Lee-Anne and Greg, Greg died in front her.

Greg was immediately rushed to Royal Victoria Hospital. On February 28, 2021 it was decided that he would be taken off life-support, and some of his kidneys donated.

His age was 42.

Lee-Anne’s pancreas was donated along with his kidneys and her liver to three other transplant patients. She has received an email from one recipient thanking her and expressing her sadness for losing her.

In September, the mother of two will be taking part in the Lagan Dragon Boat Race in Belfast.

Lee-Anne is raising money to support HEMS, the Northern Ireland air ambulance service that fought for Greg’s survival.

Lee-Anne, 43, says that the entire medical staff was amazing.

He had a tear at the main heart valve called the aortic. It was the cause of his backache.

Lee-Anne & Greg first met in London when both were living in London and working. After marrying and having two children, Dylan (7) and Jasmine (four), in July 2017, they decided to move back to Lee Anne’s hometown of Northern Ireland so they could be close to their family.

“We were able to move just in time for the Covid Lockdown. We initially rented,” says she. The summer turned out to have been a very idyllic time, and a memorable one for her family.

After the hustle and bustle of London, the children love the outdoors.

Greg took the kids for many walks while I was at work. Dylan always had lots of energy. Jasmine was in the baby backpack that Greg carried.

The following autumn, Greg started Handy Home Improvements NI, a business he founded with his trained plumber.

Lee-Anne remembers that “he was healthy, active and fit.” I never would have thought that there could be any problem.

Greg’s handyman skills led them to purchase a “bit of a renovator” in Lisburn. They began renovations as soon as they received their keys.

They assumed Greg had pulled a muscle when he complained of pain between his shoulder blades. So a friend loaned them a machine that massages the back in the evenings.

Greg and Lee Anne worked together to remove wallpaper in the evening of Thursday 25th February. Lee Anne asked her husband to leave before she did because her back was bothering him again.

Lee-Anne recalls, “By time I returned home late at night, Dylan and him were fast asleep in the bed.”

“He had been working hard. I thought that he only needed some rest.”

Greg started pacing in his bedroom the next day, again complaining about back pain. After lying down again in bed, he tried the massager once more.

Lee Anne says, “I brought Dylan downstairs so he could play.”

“I ran up to Greg to make sure he’s okay. When I saw him laying down, I gave him an encouraging kiss on the face and said to let him rest.

Lee-Anne took Jasmine to the basement, but she then heard “a horrible gasping noise”.

The woman says: “I ran into the room and I was able to see Greg die right before me.”

When I called the 999 number, they told me to start CPR and drag him on to the floor.

As I moved him, Jasmine touched his cheek with her hand and called out ‘Daddy.’

Greg was taken to the hospital by HEMS paramedics, who worked with him.

Although they were able to restart the heart, damage was already done. Greg’s brain was starved for oxygen.

Lee-Anne’s worst nightmare was to tell Dylan his father wouldn’t come home.

She said, “I told her that her father was going to Heaven.”

Dylan had asked to be in heaven because I told him about it after we saw a dead bird during one of our weekly walks.

The child was simply too young for him to grasp the concept.

Lee-Anne bravely decided to let his liver, pancreas, and kidneys be donated on February 28 after tests revealed that Greg had officially died of brain death. The woman says that it was a comfort to her in the months following, when she had moved into their home without Greg.

An autopsy revealed that Greg, incredibly, had suffered a cardiac arrest months or even years before his death. However, Greg likely ignored the pain. Usually, a tear in the aortic is caused by genetics or an inherent weakness. Lee-Anne, who lost her husband almost two years ago to the day, received a thank you letter from an organ donor service. The man had been given Greg’s heart and pancreas.

This man had three previous failed attempts at a transplant before Greg saved his life.

This letter reads: “There is not a single day that goes by where I do not think of my donor, and what a lucky person I am.”

This also makes me sad when I remember his loved ones.

Lee-Anne wanted to ease her husband’s mind, so she wrote: “Everything was great about my man, he had a kind, gentle soul and was one of the nicest men you would ever meet.” “I love that you remember him, that a piece of him still lives within you.”

The woman says: “I kept the letters in a safe place and will give them to Dylan, Jasmine and their dad when they are old enough and can appreciate what he gave.”

The program won’t bring Greg Back, but it has helped another family stop suffering.

Lee-Anne, along with her team at Diageo in Belfast (where she works), will compete against the Dragon Boat Challenge this Friday, 15th of September, River’s Edge. They hope to raise at the very least PS1500 in order to help HEMS.

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