Charity set up by double organ recipient celebrates huge £2m milestone

Russell MacMillan founded East Renfrewshire Good Causes after undergoing life-saving surgery.

A charity set up by a double organ recipient to pay tribute to his donor is celebrating a remarkable milestone.

Russell MacMillan had set out to raise £100,000 after undergoing life-saving surgery, but East Renfrewshire Good Causes has now given out £2m in donations to groups and individuals.

The charity takes referrals from a range of professionals – including healthcare staff, social workers and teachers.

Russell, 59, told Scotland Tonight: “If you speak to any frontline worker that’s out there, and especially now the state is struggling, there’s not enough money in the kitty with an ageing population.

“But somebody comes out of the blue and says we care about you. Here’s a wee act of kindness and it might be £100. Maybe £50, so it’s not always tens of thousands of pounds.”

Giving back

Russell was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eight years old.

The condition caused him to go totally blind at just 23, and he ended up suffering kidney failure. He joined the transplant list and eventually received a double transplant 17 years ago, in January 2007.

That treatment cured his diabetes and saved his life. 

He said: “You really can’t put that into words what that is. A total stranger has saved your life, cured your type 1 diabetes, cured your kidney failure, they’ve given you a life expectancy that you didn’t have. It is massive.”

While recovering in hospital, Russell says he was struck with the idea to set up a charity. 

He said “I gave [my wife] a reporter’s notepad, and I said there’s a business plan for East Renfrewshire Good Causes.

“Basically to go out there and try and raise £100,000 in memory of the organ donor, saying thanks to God. It just made perfect sense. I’d never mentioned it before, it hadn’t been an issue. Do not think that East Renfrewshire Good Causes (ERGC) is down to Russell. It’s not.”

It was only later that Russell realised he had formed a deep connection with his Christian faith, which he believes inspired him to set up ERGC. 

He could not have imagined the impact that his idea would eventually have in terms of supporting people in need.

With the help of his wife, Yvonne and a team of dedicated volunteers, around 7,000 people have now been supported by ERGC. 

Among them is Linda Ward, from Barrhead, who contracted sepsis during the pandemic and had to have both her legs amputated.

The ERGC were able to give Linda Ward a wheelchair after her amputations.

When she returned home, she found the wheelchair she had been given was too wide to let her move around the house.

Linda became bedbound in her living room for a year.

She said: “At first, because of the stitches and the clamps, I couldn’t really move about, so obviously I had people in helping me. Nobody wants someone to bathe them, wash them with a facecloth. It takes all your dignity away, it’s no life.”

Linda was put in touch with ERGC through a mutual friend. Russell told her to go to the shops and pick out a wheelchair that suited her needs.

“They moved all these chairs and sat me on one, and I was going round about, and I said: ‘I quite like that one. But look, I’m going to have to come back when I’ve got the money’.

“And the guy said, ‘just give me five minutes’. So me and my husband are sitting there waiting. He comes back, hands me the book. He said that’s all been bought and paid for. 

“I knew I could go outside and have my life back. And just that wee bit of kindness to me was amazing.”

ERGC also paid for Linda’s kitchen to be adapted and for her back garden to be made more accessible. 

“I know [Russell] doesn’t realise how much he gave me back. He gave me my legs back cause this [wheelchair] is my legs.”

Despite the huge progress ERGC has made since its inception, there is no sign of it slowing down.

Russell has ensured that every single penny of public donations is spent to help people in need, none of the money donated goes towards the administration of the charity.

Russell said: “We recently had a big renewables company come along to us. They said they wanted to give us several thousand pounds per month. 

“But we now need to take grant applications in from any frontline worker anywhere in Scotland. So what started off in East Renfrewshire to get to the £100,000, we now operate through the whole of Scotland. 

“So if you’re a social worker operating in very difficult cases and you happen to be in Stornoway, phone me and we’ll see if we can try and help.”

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