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Mark Dobson: £250k of new funding a welcome Christmas gift

In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, takes pride at honour bestowed by students

I have the privilege of meeting so many people who follow my column, or who have been inspired to become an organ donor because of the amazing life-saving stories which are covered across the media.

However, when my mum was invited to meet and speak with the final year health studies students at South Eastern Regional College, she had a big surprise in store.

With a newly expanded organ donation presentation, she headed off to Newtownards at the invitation of course co-ordinator Nikki Rainey.

Shortly after meeting with the students, she was told that they have been following my column in their lessons as they study all aspects of organ donation. What an accolade to have a class of students learning from my own quirky kidney journey.

Mum was talking to them all about our transplant experience earlier this year, as well as her work to promote organ donation and efforts to deliver an opt-out system for Northern Ireland.

She was also highlighting the dedicated support being provided across Northern Ireland to kidney patients through Kidney Care UK.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to join her, but I hear she had a fabulous time and she tells me that the students were clued up on their studies, which made for a super question and answer session.

I would like to send them best wishes as they finish their coursework and thank them for their interest.

Organ donation also hit the headlines last week thanks to the Department of Health announcing a new policy.

To give a little bit of background, back in 2016 the Assembly passed two pieces of legislation which my mum had written, to provide, for the first time, a requirement for the Department of Health to promote the gift of life through organ donation.

Mum was on hand to see Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride announce that the department was putting funding of £250,000 behind the new policy to encourage giving the gift of life. How fitting it was to be announced on Northern Ireland's organ donation discussion day - and in the month of Christmas.

The announcement was made possible because of the Secretary of State announcing in October that our local departments could make decisions in the absence a working Assembly.

What an amazing thing it is to see a good news story like this coming out of this decision - thank you to everyone involved in delivering it.

Decisions like this will have the impact of spawning conversations and donation decisions around Northern Ireland, which have the power to save lives. This time last year I was facing a Christmas on dialysis, joined by my fellow patients, and of course our wonderful nurses and auxiliaries, and I know exactly what it is like to be given hope through the decision of others, firstly in 2009 and then earlier this year. Decisions save lives and this new policy is a huge step forward.

This year I'm looking forward to having some real family time free from the thoughts and constraints of dialysis, a feeling I wish every dialysis patient could experience.

And I'm wishing you all a very happy Christmas from my family to yours.

Just do one thing for me: when you are opening all those neatly wrapped gifts on Christmas Day and you have the whole family around, have a chat about giving the ultimate gift and you could become a life-saver.

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