This devoted mom's heart was broken when her 20-year-old son suffered a fatal stroke. Now, she's speaking of her pride after his organs were used to save the lives of strangers.
Jack Pearce was planning a bright future with his girlfriend Abi Miles, and had a loving relationship with his mom, Julie Pearce, stepdad Roger Pearce, brother Max, and a stepsister Jai when his life was cut short on February 28.
Diagnosed with a chemical imbalance in his brain after his first seizure at 17, he had been well for a year when his parents found him unconscious at their home on February 25, where Roger performed CPR, only for the stress to give him a heart attack later that day from which he recovered.
“At first, when I discovered he was an organ donor, I struggled to accept his decision," Julie said, Remembering her son as a "gentle giant."
“Now I get a warm feeling, thinking that Jack has not really gone because there are parts of him that have given others life or are helping them to survive, and that his spirit is still with us.
“A few days after he passed away, I had a delivery with four little gold hearts for every organ he had donated. Two were used for life-saving operations and one for life-changing ones, but, sadly, his pancreas didn't take."
A keyring to mark Jack being a donor (PA Real Life/Collect)
“A man in his 40s received his liver in a life-saving transplant after being on the list for several months and a lady in her 30s had a kidney, after two years on the list," she said.
“A young lad in his 20s also had a kidney after being on dialysis since he was a little boy. His pancreas was also donated, but as it was not accepted, we did not find out any more information about the recipient. It's one of the hardest organs to transplant."
A ring Julie had made from Jack's ashes (PA Real Life/Collect)
Jack first spoke to his mom about organ donation when he applied for a driving license.
Uncomfortable with the idea, but thinking nothing would happen, she put it to the back of her mind.
But that summer, Jack was in the sixth form when he had his first seizure, falling to the ground after stepping off the school bus.
Two further seizures followed while he waited for his appointment with a neurosurgeon at Salisbury District Hospital in August 2018.
Investigations including an MRI, X-rays and light tests to detect the cause of the episodes, revealed that Jack had a chemical imbalance in his brain, which was triggering the seizures.
“Doctors tried him on various different medications. They finally got the balance right and he had his last seizure on Christmas Eve 2018," Julie said.
Jack (PA Real Life/Collect)
“He gave up his driving license after the first one, which was awful for him as he loved his car. He was counting down the months until he could drive again, knowing he had to be seizure free for a year," she added.
“When he passed away, he was working at an insurance company part time, while training to be an accountant. He was earning his own money and saving to buy himself a BMW for when he got his license back."
With his job based near his parents, Jack would have breakfast with his mom at the hair salon where she worked, then coming back for lunch and going home either with her or Abi, who he had been seeing for three years.
A tattoo Julie had done of Jack's words (PA Real Life/Collect)
“He called Abi his princess. He loved her so much. Whenever he got paid he would treat her to a meal in a restaurant," Julie said.
On the night of his fatal seizure, Julie had cooked the family a Chinese meal and Jack had been looking for a new top online from his favorite clothing brand, Supreme, before going to bed.
But when Julie went to put some washing in his room, she noticed something was wrong.
“His breath sounded really weird, like he was struggling. I went over and shook him and he was like a rag doll. It wasn't a normal seizure," she said.
“I screamed for my husband. We called 999 and were told to get Jack on a solid floor so we could perform CPR, while we waited for an ambulance. Roger was in pieces, saying, 'I can't do it,' but he did. He kept going until the ambulance crew arrived."
Jack and Abi (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was hysterical. I heard the paramedics say, 'He's back, we've got a pulse.' I was on the phone to my son Max and I said, 'He died, they said they got him back, so he must have died,'" Julie said.
Jack was rushed to Salisbury District Hospital, with his parents following in the car.
But, as they waited for news in the family room, Julie noticed that Roger had turned gray, going to find help only to return and find him on the floor having a heart attack.
Jack and his mum Julie (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I didn't know what to do, or where to go. I was just in complete shock," she said.
“A nurse came and explained to me that there had been some complications with Jack. He'd had a stroke that led to a cardiac arrest and I kept saying, 'No, no, you're wrong. My husband has had a heart attack and my son has had a seizure.'"
“I couldn't understand it. For the next 24 hours, I was just rushing from one end of the hospital to the other. By the end of it, my husband said, 'Just stay with Jack.'"
They all tried to support him.
“We all sat there talking to him. Abi didn't leave his side the whole time, they put an extender on his bed, so she could get closer to him," Julie said.
The following day, Roger was moved to the ward next door to Jack, who was on a life support machine.
Doctors explained to the family that Jack's brain had started swelling and the prognosis was not good.
Jack and his stepsister Jai (PA Real Life/Collect)
Further tests revealed a blood clot in his neck, which doctors believed may have shifted after his seizure and was preventing blood from reaching his brain.
At this point, the family were told Jack was brain dead and discussions began about organ donation.
“I was hyperventilating and said, 'I'm not having this conversation. He's still warm, his heart is still beating,'" Julie recalled.
Jack and his mum Julie (PA Real Life/Collect)
“A nurse told me that Jack had filled the donation form in twice, once when he was 17 and then when he applied for his license again at 20," she said.
“The 20-year-old who filled in that form had given more in depth answers than the 17-year-old, saying if his organs couldn't be used for donation, perhaps they could be tested on. He'd given it a lot of thought and it was his wish."
“I told them they couldn't take his heart, his eyes or his skin. Everyone used to say Jack's eyes were so blue, you could dive in and go swimming in them. A kind of religious feeling came over me and I couldn't let go of them."
A tattoo Max had done of his brother (PA Real Life/Collect)
“His skin didn't have a blemish on it and I couldn't let them use it. When I looked at him, I wanted him to still look like my Jack," she continued.
On February 28 at 4.30am, with his family by his side, Jack passed away.
“Doctors told us that once they'd switched the life support machine off, if he hadn't passed within half an hour, they would not be able to take his organs. He died after 25 minutes. Abi and I had our heads on his chest and felt his heart slowly stop beating," Julie recalled.
“He was taken to the chapel of rest, where he stayed for a week and we were able to visit him. He looked so beautiful."
At first the grieving family were told they were allowed 20 people at Jack's funeral, but the day before it was reduced to 10, with his friends able to watch on a screen outside.
Jack's coffin was covered in stickers, including some from the Supreme clothing brand he loved.
Jack and Julie hold hands shortly before he passes (PA Real Life/Collect)
A big hip hop fan, some of his favorite songs, like P Diddy's I'll Be Missing You, were played.
And on September 11, his loved ones gave him the send-off he deserved, with a wake at Salisbury Rugby Club.
“His friends had made a playlist for him. We released some balloons and ate his favourite food – pizza," Julie said.
Jack's niece Aida on his memorial bench (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It was beautiful and something we needed to do for him," she said.
“My nephews go drift racing and had a memorial race with a tribute to him on the side of the car."
On his birthday, Jack's friends released Chinese lanterns at midnight while Julie watched the sunrise sitting on her son's memorial bench near their home inscribed with "Everybody Eat," because that was his favorite thing to do.
Jack's ashes have been split, with some planted in a Yew tree, others made into rings for Julie and Abi and a charm for his niece, Aida and sister Jai, some scattered on a beach and the remainder kept at home.
“It was not until his passing that I really found out what he meant to people. He was the kindest person ever," Julie said.
“I had so many cards from his friends and what they said about Jack, how he had helped support them, I couldn't have been prouder."
“He was always soppy and they took the mickey out of him for being a 'mommy's boy'. They said he was the only one happy to give his mom a big kiss and hug in public. He was kind and sensitive."
Julie, Abi and Max at Jack's memorial (PA Real Life/Collect)
“He loved computers and gaming, his room was full of boxes of screws and bits of wire, because he'd buy a computer and then take it apart and build it into the machine he wanted," Julie said.
Julie, who would like to meet the organ recipients if they choose to contact her, is now working with the NHS Blood and Transplant team to raise awareness of organ donation.
“Max said if Jack had the courage to do it, he should, too, and signed up, as did my husband," Julie said.
Max and Jack (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It took me a bit longer, but I got my donor card through on Jack's 21st birthday," she continued.
“The conversation about donation might not be nice for many people, but it's important. There are so many people suffering and donation can help them to have a completely different life."
“It was Jack's final wish and I couldn't be prouder of him for what he's done."
For more information on organ donation visit www.nhsbt.nhs.uk