Like most young families at this time of year, the Bates family were looking forward to enjoying Christmas together, but on the way back from a festive party their lives were destroyed in a split second.
A car plowed into the family of four as they crossed a road near Miskin, just outside Cardiff, killing dad Stuart and leaving son Fraser injured beyond hope of recovery.
The seven-year-old put up a brave fight but died several hours later after being rushed to a specialist hospital in Bristol for emergency care. His injuries were just too severe.
Mother Anna Louise Bates and daughter Elizabeth, who was just three at the time, were uninjured but have had to live with the pain of losing their beloved ‘boys’.
Now three years after the crash which ripped her family apart, Mrs Bates has opened up about the pain of that night and everything which followed – and the bittersweet happiness of keeping in touch with people ‘her boys’ saved by organ donation.
Her late son’s heart now beats in another little boy’s chest. The pair keep in touch.
The Bates family before tragedy struck on a road in South Wales three Christmases ago. Anna Louise, Fraser, Elizabeth and Stuart. Mother and daughter were uninjured in the crash but Stuart was killed almost instantly and Fraser died later in hospital
At the hospital in Bristol back in December 2015, doctors had confirmed the worst. There was nothing more they could do for the little boy. But Mrs Bates knew that both Stuart and Fraser would want to have their organs donated.
‘I knew because Stuart told me,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t so much that we had had that conversation, before the crash he had told me it is what he wanted. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be such an involved process.
‘The form for Fraser took nearly two hours to fill in, with so many questions. Questions I never wanted to ever be answering.’
Her son didn’t have the transplant operation until the day after the accident.
She said: ‘I left the hospital on Sunday night, but then I was worried that I should have stayed with him.
‘Leaving him at the hospital with his heart still beating was the hardest thing I had to do. I came home and there were so many people there for me, I have the most amazing family, but I was just there in the middle of it all watching the phone and waiting for it to ring to tell me that Fraser had had the operation.
‘Then, I got a phone call at 8pm the next day to tell me that the operation had been a success.’
Donors’ families are not told who the recipients are to start with – it is up to them and their families to get in touch. It has to be done in writing and through the NHS Blood and Transplant department.
And at first, Mrs Bates felt almost resentful when she hadn’t heard from anyone after six months.
‘I thought it was quite rude that they hadn’t been in touch to say thank you,’ she sai.
‘Then a year went by, and still nothing and I realised that it must be one of the most difficult letter to ever have to write. A letter to a parent who has lost a child.’
Three years on, and she has now heard from some of the families that Fraser helped, and keeps in touch with the little boy who received his heart.
Stuart Bates holding his young son Fraser. Both of Mrs Bates’s ‘boys’ would save lives as a result of that awful night, via organ donation
‘I haven’t met them in person, but we do keep in touch and they send me pictures,’ she explains nervously. ‘We haven’t met yet.’
For months after the dreadful crash, Mrs Bates blanked out many of the horrific details of that December night.
Legally she wasn’t allowed to talk about it with other witnesses and she was determined to protect family and friends by shielding them from what had happened.
Mrs Bates put all her energies and grief into helping others by starting a charity to help others because from her experience she felt ‘something needed to be done’.
Just over a week after Stuart and Fraser died, Believe was launched at a balloon release in memory of the boys.
The crash and the trial
In July 2016, driver Joshua Staples was sentenced to 16 months in jail for causing the deaths of Stuart and Fraser by careless driving.
The 24-year-old, from Tonyrefail, Porth, had pleaded guilty.
Stuart and Fraser Bates died after being hit by an Alfa Romeo driven by Staples, while crossing the A4119 in Talbot Green, Llantrisant.
At the time the family said: ‘We have never sought retribution against the driver.
‘However we are relieved that he accepted responsibility for his actions.
;The custodial sentence imposed will give all parties the time and opportunity to reflect and for the healing process to begin.’
The father and son had saved several lives when their organs were donated, and the aim was to raise more awareness by getting people of all ages talking about organ donation.
Mrs Bates, who used to be a lawyer, wanted to be able to help other families through the traumatic process and encourage people to talk about the subject.
She said: ‘Educating children about organ donation from a young age is key in my opinion. I want to help other parents to have the conversation by creating a conversation starter.’
It has been a success with celebrity support, meeting with education officials to introduce awareness programmes in schools and a fund to help other families.
But all the time Mrs Bates, who now lives in Thornhill, Cardiff, had suppressed what had happened to her family that night.
‘It wasn’t until Bonfire Night the following year that I actually broke down,’ she said.
‘It must have been all the bangs from the fireworks and all the noise, but it all hit me and I got diagnosed with PTSD. When I was a lawyer and people talked about it, I didn’t really think it was a real thing until it happened.’
She decided against taking the anti-depressants doctors were keen to prescribe her, saying she wanted to be ‘there completely’ for daughter Elizabeth, but she has found cognitive behavioural therapy a good way of helping her through the trauma. But it has been painful.
‘I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone because I was a witness in the trial and I didn’t speak to my family because, in my mind, they didn’t need to know the awful details,’ she explained.
Mrs Bates said leaving Fraser (pictured) at the hospital, still alive, was one of the hardest things she has ever had to do
‘I moved what happened that night to a part of my brain that meant I couldn’t remember. But it did mean I became more worried about having flashbacks and what I was going to remember and when.
‘There is a long wait for this sort of help but I was really lucky to be in a position where I could pay privately for treatment. It was really hard because it did mean that every week I had to go over what had happened. It wasn’t just the impact of the car, it was the fact that the boys were lying so far apart in the road after the crash.
‘I was feeling guilty because I thought I had been running between the two. Leaving one on their own to look after the other.
‘I was feeling bad that when I was with Stuart, I was not with Fraser and then I was worried about Stu when I was with Fraser. I didn’t know what to do and I was tortured by the thought that I could have done something different to save one of them.
‘The therapy has helped me understand that what actually happened was that I stayed with Fraser, was by his side, and shouted at the other people there who were with Stuart to help save my husband.
‘Then we had to go to the hospital. I went to say goodbye to Stuart, and then had to go straight to be with Fraser.
‘I said I can’t give up on my son. I just remember sitting with Fraser in intensive care and just talking to him about football.
‘Every time I said ‘you scored’ his blood pressure would go up. It was like he was still with us. I told them, I am not letting you give up on him.
‘I had to fight for him to be taken to Bristol because I felt there was still some reaction there. But on the way to Bristol we had to travel down the same road where the crash had just happened.
‘It was not just one traumatic event that night, it was a whole series of traumatic events.’
The NHS Blood and Transplant team say it is widely acknowledged that donor families gain a huge degree of comfort from receiving an acknowledgement of thanks from the recipient whose life has been saved as a consequence of a decision made at a very difficult time.
She founded the Believe charity in the aftermath of the tragedy and is now looking to help families of organ donors and organ recipients
A letter to a donor’s family: how it works
If a transplant recipient chooses to, they or their family can write a message or letter to their donor’s family.
The correspondence is passed to their Transplant Co-ordinator who reads the letter to check for identifiable information.
If satisfactory, it is then sent to the Donor Records Department at NHSBT, as well as usually keeping a photocopy on file for future reference.
The Donor Records Department then match the correspondence with the relevant donor file, and the donor’s family are made aware that a letter/message is waiting for them.
If they wish to receive it, it is then forwarded on in a separate envelope to be opened at their discretion.
Mrs Bates now wants to help the families not only of organ recipients but of donors too, with Believe’s Fraser Fund.
‘For a long time people were asking what we were going to do with the money that had been raised,’ she said.
‘I knew early on that something needed to be done. After Fraser died I was given three booklets in the hospital, three books with information in it that was difficult to take in. It would have been much better if there had been someone there to help you through it, to hold my hand through it.
‘There is so much help and support out there for people, but it is difficult to know where to find it. It is something Believe is looking at. Having volunteers there who can help you find what you need. It is such a tough process and it would be good to have that sort of support.
‘For example, I went to speak at a Brake conference the other week and found out that they have a helpline that that you can ring and access counselling.
‘I also found out that Barnardo’s can offer play therapy for Elizabeth, something I had no idea the charity organised.
‘She had already had the play therapy offered by 2 Wish Upon A Star, but it is nice to know there is so much help and support out there, it is just difficult for people to find.’
Now, Mrs Bates is keen for people to apply to the Fraser Fund for grants that will towards helping families. It could be anything from providing a stair lift for a family to get their loved one home from hospital, to helping out the families with support.
‘It is good to have the fund up and running,’ said Mrs Bates. ‘And we have recently employed someone on a part time basis which is going to be great going forward.’
Elizabeth is at a different school but in the same year Fraser was when he died, and still talks a lot about her dad and brother.
Anna Louise Bates pictured recently with her daughter Elizabeth. MRs Bates says the tragedy has made her daughter very resilient
Mrs Bates called herself ‘grateful’ for the 13 years she spent with her husband and all the ‘amazing things’ they packed into their time together. She said: ‘We did it all and that is what I am now trying to do with Elizabeth. Making memories for her in true Bates style’
‘It has made her very resilient,’ said her proud mother. ‘She knows what happened and we talk about the boys all the time, but this year has been the hardest yet. I don’t know if it was because Fraser would have been 10 in September, or if it is because Elizabeth is the same year he was in and becoming more like him every day.
‘Maybe it is because the shock is wearing off and it is all becoming more real.’
On the third anniversary earlier this month, Mrs Bates took Elizabeth away to ‘make memories’ on a trip to Disneyland Paris.
‘I wanted to get away, to let all the other people who loved Stu and Fraser be able to grieve without having to worry about us and how we were,’ she explained.
‘It was also to make memories for Elizabeth. The boys loved Star Wars so we went on that ride and talked about her dad and brother all the time. It was really good for her and now I have to find the strength to face Christmas.
‘I was never someone who took life slowly, I am always on the go 24/7 and Stu was exactly the same.
‘I am so grateful because we had 13 years together and we packed so many amazing things into those years that some people never do in 50 years.
‘We did the same with Fraser. We did it all and that is what I am now trying to do with Elizabeth. Making memories for her in true Bates style.’
Someone recently asked Mrs Bates if she had survivor guilt.
She said: ‘It took me a little bit by shock, but I replied that it was actually harder still being here. It would have been a lot easier if all of us had been hit, but Stuart and Fraser have taught me how valuable life is.
‘Life is a gift and you really have to make the most of it. It is their gift, the gift of life.’