Fermanagh policeman nearing end of four-month recovery after he donated a kidney for poorly schoolboy Joshua (9)
Police officer Graham Dodds who saved the life of a nine-year-old boy by donating his kidney to him is the winner of our 999 Hero Award sponsored by Hastings Hotels.
PSNI Chief Inspector for Fermanagh and Omagh, Graham didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone when he read a heartfelt appeal for help from the mum of nine-year-old Joshua Dolan.
Little Joshua from Enniskillen was gravely ill and in need of a life-saving kidney transplant.
Graham (45), a father of two boys, says: “It was a very simple decision. If Joshua didn’t get a kidney it was likely he would die as he was in kidney failure.
“I have been a police officer for nearly 24 years and we are that breed, if someone needs help it is in the police’s DNA to just do it. I just knew it was the right thing to do.”
Joshua’s mother Mary made the desperate public appeal last November after tests showed no family member was suitable and little Joshua’s condition had become critical.
Graham picked up the phone and called the hospital to put himself forward as soon as he read Mary’s appeal in a local newspaper.
Four years earlier the officer had undergone tests to see if his kidney matched a work colleague who at the time needed a transplant.
It meant his details were already with the transplant team.
He explains: “I rang the hospital immediately after reading Mary’s appeal.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be a match as it is such a rare thing that even people in his own family were not a match.
“They already had my details on file and it was just a week later when the hospital rang me to come up for tests, that’s how urgent it was.
“I had the tests and checks just before Christmas and was told I was a really good match.”
Joshua was given the best Christmas present ever when Graham broke the news that he was a match, giving the child the gift of life.
But while there was great hope for Joshua, Covid meant that transplant surgeries were cancelled as the country went into another lockdown.
Graham and Joshua struck up a friendship via video calls as they waited on a date for surgery.
To keep himself healthy, Graham shielded for two months prior to the operation, having no contact at all with friends and his wider family circle.
Married to Nicola, he had her full support along with sons Alexander (13) and Ethan (15).
Surgery finally went ahead on May 18, when Graham came through a major four-hour operation to remove his kidney in the City Hospital.
The organ was then quickly transported to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children where in an hour-long surgery it was given to Joshua.
Graham recalls: “I could see the children’s hospital from my window in one of the top floors of the City Hospital tower block.
“When I came round from my surgery they were starting to operate on Joshua. It was a hectic day for both of us.
“When Joshua woke his kidney was working as it was totally dead when he went into surgery. His kidney function is now up to 96% which is as good as if he had two kidneys.”
After the surgery, Joshua’s relieved mum Mary said: “If I was to say thank you to Graham 1,000 times, it wouldn’t be enough but he knows how much we appreciate what he has done.
“He has saved Joshua’s life. It is as plain and simple as that.”
And while Joshua immediately got a new lease of life, Graham faced a four-month recovery at home, something which this incredible man is very much taking in his stride. He says: “It was the first child transplant surgery after the lockdown.
“The irony is I went in to the surgery as fit as a fiddle and came out very weak with little energy, while Joshua was the opposite.
“I’ve had really bad pain for weeks which thankfully is not as bad now.
“I am still fatigued and I’ve been told that can last up to eight months. I can be fine one day and the next day a simple walk will take it out of me and I will have to rest.
“I have also found that I am much thirstier than I was before.
“The kidneys are the organs that store water and with just one now I have found I need to drink between four and five litres of water every day.
“When I waken in the morning my thirst is that intense that I have to drink a litre of water.
“Apparently I have 50% less ability to retain fluids. I am very happy though and very much on the road to recovery and hope to return to work in mid-September.”
Due to Joshua having to shield after surgery as a protection against Covid-19, it was July before he finally got to meet his hero in person.
Aware that Joshua hopes to one day become a police officer, Graham arranged for him to visit Enniskillen police station.
During a fun day, a delighted Joshua was presented with a PSNI Commendation Medal for the bravery he showed during his long illness. He was one of few people outside of the force to ever be presented with the award.
Graham reveals: “Joshua and I just hit it off from the start. We have a really good relationship and it was great to finally get to hug and meet him in person.
“To see him running round the police station as a happy and healthy nine-year-old was wonderful.
“He’s part of me and I am part of him now, we have that bond and I will always be here to support him.”
A well-deserved winner of our award, Graham adds: “I am tremendously honoured and shocked by it.
“What I did, I’d hope any person would do. I don’t think it is special as there are people I know who would have done the same thing.
“I hope it shows the public that while the police are not perfect and we are human and make mistakes, we are also a breed of people who are happy to go out and save lives and help people.”