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Mark Dobson: Honouring the heroes who give the gift of life to others

In the tenth of his exclusive weekly columns, Mark Dobson, the son of former MLA Jo-Anne, tells of the impact organ donors and their families can have - and of a trip to Belfast's Christmas market

What a busy week it's been. Dialysis routine continues as always. However, mum has planned some outings as we prepare for Christmas.

Last Thursday mum and I made the journey to Belfast to join with organ donation campaigners, donor families and recipients to take part in the first ever Global Organ Donation Event honouring organ donors.

In a moving ceremony organised by Belfast City Council at the Botanic Gardens, we joined with cities across the world including Boston, Barcelona, Cape Town, Galway and Melbourne to remember, honour and, in a lasting memorial, pay tribute to our heroes - organ donors.

It was certainly an emotional occasion as everyone braving the cold weather to take part had their own personal story. Throughout the event I thought about the family who made the decision, in a time of unimaginable grief back in February 2009, to donate their loved one's organs which gave me a new life. Sadly, I lost that donated kidney in August but I will never ever forget the selfless generosity of that family, who I will never know, and what they did for me.

Everyone who receives the gift of life joins a special club, takes on a special bond and lives their life to honour that gift, and being part of events like this is so important to keeping that hope alive for the future.

So, next time you are close to it please take a moment to visit the Botanic Gardens. Close to the Rose Garden, you will find a candle sculpture. It's been gifted to Belfast city in friendship from Galway city and carries the beautiful words: 'To commemorate the humanity and generosity of those who have given the gift of new life to others through organ donation and celebrate the universality of this life-giving cause.'

Well done to everyone involved in this superb project which, on the global stage, honours society's appreciation of organ donors and their families.

We also got to visit the Weeping Window of poppies at the Ulster Museum and chat with the volunteers who were helping everyone understand the important meaning behind the sculpture. Similar to our commemoration, it remembers those who made sacrifices so that we might live in peace.

Afterwards, and for a special treat, mum took me to visit the Belfast Christmas market to soak up the atmosphere and brrrrrr ... it was cold! Lovely to be part of such a festive fun event and to join with families and many visitors to Northern Ireland who were enjoying bright lights, colourful stalls and the smell of culinary cooking wafting around City Hall.

Made it home that evening, albeit very tired, and up again early the next morning to make our early morning journey to Newry for dialysis.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And as the festive season approaches there will be one big change in the Dobson household … mum won't be writing any Christmas cards this year. No, she hasn't given up on an important Christmas tradition. For this year only, she's pledging to my Christmas appeal instead of sending cards. Thanks again to everyone who has pledged to support the renal units, retweeted my tweets or promoted my Facebook page - it means so much to me to be able to give back to those who have been so wonderful to me throughout this year.

I mentioned earlier how organ donors are our heroes, but so too are our wonderful consultants, nurses and health professionals. They look after transplant patients every single day - always going that extra mile to make sure we are comfortable while on dialysis, our machines (which beep a lot) are working perfectly and we have the confidence to discuss our experiences and problems. While our lives are on hold it's important to know that a safety net of health professionals is there for us because we are at high risk of infection and the slightest issue can complicate our dialysis.

As you make all your plans for Christmas it provides the perfect opportunity to have a very important discussion with your loved ones. While you are opening your gifts this Christmas please think about a special gift which you can give - the gift of life - and have that conversation to let your loved ones know your wishes.

That's dialysis almost over for another session so, as we hear another cold spell is on its way, please be careful when you are out and about getting those last-minute Christmas gifts - baby, it's cold outside.

Mark's JustGiving Page to support the renal dialysis units at Belfast City Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry is www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/dobsonondialysis

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