Mark Dobson: Kidney surgery gave me energy to do impossible
In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, looks back to a life-changing day 10 years ago
Yesterday I celebrated a 10th birthday, but a birthday with a big difference. It was exactly 10 years ago to the day that I underwent surgery at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, under the expert care of my surgeon Mr Omar, to receive my first kidney transplant.
Looking back, so much has happened since I was a 15-year-old boy whose early childhood had been affected so much by my kidney problems. Many times I have described my life as a 'quirky kidney journey' and I think that's as true today as it was on February 5, 2009.
Back then, it was just like the weather we had over the weekend, but multiply the snowfall tenfold. Add in, of course, the typical Northern Ireland reaction to a fall of snow which would make many a Canadian blush with embarrassment - complete gridlock!
Mum took a call in the middle of the night in which she was told that a match kidney had potentially become available for me and that I would need to be at the Children's Hospital early the next morning to begin the cross-matching checks. These are the tests to make sure that the kidney was compatible with me and that I was compatible with it.
By this stage, the 'Norn Iron' gridlock had extended to the City Airport, which had been shut for a time in the morning and, of course, as my kidney was travelling from England, this put things in real danger. We also ground to a halt at Sprucefield on the way to the hospital, but thanks to our farm jeep and the power of prayer, we made it to the hospital and so did my new kidney. Which all meant that close to midnight that day, I went into theatre to undergo the surgery I needed to receive a new kidney.
My own kidney function had dropped so low that without a transplant, I was rapidly facing the reality that kidney dialysis was my only option - but the available kidney came just in time and back then I was spared dialysis by a whisker.
My life was saved, but I am always conscious that this happened at a price, because when I was receiving a new life, a family in England were grieving the loss of a loved one. When it is discussed and whenever it is raised, organ donation is always touched by emotion. As I mark the 10th anniversary of receiving my first kidney transplant, I am also thinking about those who made it possible, about the donor and their family.
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As I talk to fellow transplant recipients, I know that honouring their hero donors is a major part of all of our daily lives.
I am often asked what it meant to receive a new kidney and what difference it made to my life. I would sum this up in one word - energy! My kidney transplant gave me the energy to do things which before would have been impossible - I had my freedom back, freedom to learn to drive, freedom to help out on our family farm and to help mum in her office.
It's quite difficult to take in that a decade ago, which seems just like yesterday, I went through major transplant surgery. I remember the snow, the gridlocked Sprucefield, the smiling faces of my nurses Hazel, Rosie and Kathy and the tears running down my mum's cheeks as she took in the enormity of what was happening to me.
Organ donation changes and saves lives - in my case twice - in ways which we can never predict.
If you want to learn more about the amazing superheroes who make these miracles happen for people right across Northern Ireland, I would suggest that you watch BBCNI's documentary 'Life on the List' - part of the True North series - as it airs next Monday night at 10.40pm.
Regular readers will know that I've been highlighting this programme, the work of BBCNI's sports presenter and fellow kidney recipient Stephen Watson, for the past few weeks.
I know I am like a broken record, always telling people to have the conversation about organ donation. This week I am still asking you to do that, but with a twist! Talk to your friends and family about the documentary and you will learn so much about what it means to place your life in the hands of heroes and to live your life on the list.