The heartwarming reason why this 18-year-old from Sunderland has a stranger’s photo on her fridge

Frankie McCulloch has and will never meet the man whose picture she keeps pride of place on her fridge.

Although a perfect stranger to her, he is the reason why the Sunderland teenager lived to see her second birthday.

Frankie was just 17-months-old when she received Lee Jones’ liver in a life-saving transplant in 2005.

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Signing the organ donor register at 16 became Lee’s lasting legacy and helped his heartbroken parents, Andy and Jackie Jones cope with losing him.

Lee, a twin, was killed with a single punch to the head after being set upon as he walked home in Rhyl in Wales from a rare night out.

Mum Jackie, Dad Andy, brother Dean, Lee himself and Wayne taken shortly before his death back on January 25, 2005
Mum Jackie, Dad Andy, brother Dean, Lee himself and Wayne taken shortly before his death back on January 25, 2005
(Image: Mum Jackie, Dad Andy, brother Dean, Lee himself and Wayne taken shortly before his death back on January 25, 2005)

While his mum and dad were confronted with the unimaginable pain of watching their child slip away, they were able to gain comfort from the fact that the 22-year-old “died a hero” by saving six other lives across the UK – including Frankie’s.

Now, as she reaches her 18th birthday milestone, Frankie’s mum, Louise Cullen has spoken out about how the family treasure Lee’s photograph.

Speaking to North Wales Live, Louise, who lives 250 miles away from Lee’s home in Wales said: “We’ll be forever grateful to Lee, Jackie and Andy for what they’ve done to help Frankie.

“When the transplant coordinators asked me if I’d like to find out more about her donor, I just had to say ‘yes’ and I’ve been in touch with the family ever since.”

Andy and Jackie said the fact that Lee carried a donor card, unbeknown to them, had kept his name alive.

However, Andy admitted the news came as a shock to him at the time of the tragedy.

Andy and Jackie Jones from Rhyl.
Andy and Jackie Jones from Rhyl.
(Image: North Wales Daily Post)

He said: “When organ donation was first mentioned to me as Lee was dying, I’m embarrassed to say that I was against it.

“But once I saw Lee’s card with his own unique signature, I was ashamed because I realised these were his wishes. It wasn’t up to me.

“Of course I wish it hadn’t happened to Lee, but I’m glad he signed the organ register because it focuses your attention in the weeks and months after his death.

“It definitely eased the grieving process because you can see the difference Lee has made in the world.”

Lee Jones from Rhyl in Wales who died at the age of 22 back in 2005
Lee Jones from Rhyl in Wales who died at the age of 22 back in 2005
(Image: Lee Jones from Rhyl in Wales who died at the age of 22 back in 2005)

A 30-year-old man from Bangor was given a new lease of life after a double lung transplant thanks to Lee, and father-of-two Alan Schofield from Burnley was 44 when he received Lee’s heart.

Andy, who works as a corrosion engineer, said: “You imagine the parallel situations as we are being told there’s nothing more that can be done for our child, there’s a baby 250 miles away whose life is depending on Lee’s death, it’s weird that our tragedy is someone else’s saviour.

“We’ve kept in touch with Frankie’s family and have watched her grow into a beautiful young woman and she wouldn’t be here if not for Lee, along with the others.

“We’re so touched that she keeps his picture on the fridge.

“Seeing the difference it’s made for ourselves has made us devote a lot of our energy to getting people to sign the organ donor register and that gives us enormous comfort and fills us with pride to be honest.

“The big thing for us is keeping Lee’s name alive. You’ve got to keep them alive in your life and talk about them, otherwise you’d go mad.”

The “happy-go-lucky” storeman and former Rhyl High School pupil never regained consciousness after being knocked to the ground by a single punch thrown by drunken 17-year-old Jamie Scott, from Rhuddlan, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in youth custody.

Andy Jones with his twin sons Lee (left) and Dean (right) during a caravan holiday in Great Yarmouth
Andy Jones with his twin sons Lee (left) and Dean (right) during a caravan holiday in Great Yarmouth
(Image: Jackie Jones)

Lee was described as a “lovely lad” and “model son” and the family often wonder what he would be doing now.

But Andy and Jackie, who have been together for more than 40 years, now have grandchildren who have helped ease their pain.

Jackie, a travel agent, said: “It takes a very long time to go through something like this and come out the other side, but the grandchildren definitely help.

“They give you something to live for because when you lose your child, you don’t want to live any more, you don’t feel like you should because losing a child is not natural and you’re crying out to give your love and have something fill that void.

“If Lee had been our only child, I don’t think I’d be here now, but because we had our other boys and now their children, you’ve got a reason to carry on.”

Andy and Jackie Jones from Rhyl with their two sons Wayne and Dean and their families
Andy and Jackie Jones from Rhyl with their two sons Wayne and Dean and their families
(Image: Jackie Jones)

Andy added: “When your grandchildren run towards you with their arms wide open shouting ‘Grandad,’ that’s the best therapy.

“Life can’t end because Lee died, you never get over it but you learn to live with it and try your best to make a difference to the rest of your family.

“At first, all we thought about were the bad things but then you start remembering the things Lee did during the course of his life and other memories start to take precedent and that’s when you can move on and look back on those memories with a smile.”

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland