Abu Dhabi: On the first anniversary of her son’s death, Nathalie Grall-Sorensen, a French expat in UAE, is celebrating his continuing impact - although he met a tragic demise in January 2022, Viggo Sorensen, who was 17, continues to inspire hundreds in the UAE to register as organ donors.
The Viggo, who was in Grade 12 at GEMS Wellington Academy in Dubai, was one of the most promising members of the UAE’s golfing community, having been featured in sport publications and billed as the next big thing in the sport. Yet, after a few complaints about numbness in his arms a year ago, he was suddenly declared brain dead, his mother told Gulf News.
“He had finished his daily golf practice, and was in school when he called complaining of numbness. I took him to the emergency room but nothing could be diagnosed and he was discharged. He complained of the same numbness three hours afterwards at home, and suddenly collapsed. We rushed him to hospital again, but was told that he had a massive brain haemorrhage, and was ‘brain dead’,” said Grall-Sorensen, 60, a homemaker and animal rescue volunteer from France.
Following the devastating news, Viggo remained in the intensive care unit of the hospital for three days. Then, a team from the UAE’s National Transplantation Committee visited his parents.
“When you are given this kind of news about your child, you go into survival mode. My son lay in hospital for three days, and we then received a visit from the National Transplantation Committee, including [its chairman] Dr Ali Al Obaidli. In France, it is common practice to donate organs, and no one even thinks twice about it. When the choice was presented to me, it seemed only natural,” Grall-Sorensen said.
Thus began Viggo’s legacy as an organ donor. The deceased teenager’s organs – a heart, two lungs and two kidneys – helped save five lives. And this set up Grall-Sorensen’s mission.
Invited by the UAE’s health authorities in November 2022 to speak about her choice to donate Viggo’s organs, Grall-Sorensen became an advocate for organ donation and transplantation in the UAE. She shared her story in a clip that detailed Viggo’s journey, and it was played at the International Conference of Initiatives for Organ and Tissue Donation in Abu Dhabi that saw the launch of the UAE’s own organ donor registry.
Always a champion
“My son was such a giving person, and he was tremendously determined. He had been playing golf with my husband since he was five years old, and took up wakeboarding as a 12-year-old. Placing in the top ranks in the national competition in the UAE, he had to suddenly give up the sport because of a hip injury that left him in a wheelchair for two months. He then switched to golf, and there too, he went on to win the Emirates Golf Federation’s Junior Order of Merit in 2020, and then the Men’ equivalent the following season,” Grall-Sorensen remembered.
In fact, the youngster, who trained at Jumeirah Golf Estates, was all set to head to an American college with a sports scholarship, and harboured a dream of one day becoming a top-ranked professional golfer.
“I have no doubt he would have become one too. Despite his talent, he was however exceedingly humble. Even today, we get messages from people he played with who tell us just how talented and how kind he was,” his mother said.
Viggo was also a huge animal lover, and regularly supported his mother, who had lived in the UAE for the past 14 years, in her frequent animal rescue efforts.
“My son shone bright in life, and he is shining till today,” Grall-Sorensen said.
Supporting UAE efforts
Armed with a sense of direction, the French expat said she sees herself supporting the UAE’s efforts to establish an even stronger organ donation and transplantation programme.
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The UAE has ramped up its organ donation and transplantation programme since 2017, when a federal law approving organ donation by deceased individuals came into effect. With seven transplant centres across the country, more than 100 deceased donors have helped save over 500 lives in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. At least one more transplant centre is set to become operational soon, and an increasing number of people are now signing up as organ donors on the Hayat National Programme for Organ Donation and Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues.
Moreover, health authorities, led by the National Transplantation Committee, are continuing to raise greater awareness about the lifesaving benefits of organ donation.’
Organ donation presents a beautiful opportunity to give the gift of life to another, Grall-Sorensen said.
“I am letting Viggo guide me on my mission, and I see us championing organ donation for as long as we can. Presented with a tragedy like the one we faced, one can simply cry or you can make a difference, and we chose the latter. My son would be proud, and I can say that I am now at peace,” Grall-Sorensen said.