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Mark Dobson: Saving lives the greatest Christmas present of all

In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, recalls his hospital trip and a football double

The themes of new growth and planning for the future have been much in my mind this week. Freshly returned from our cruise, with the sound of the waves still in our ears - and I have to say a little swaying still going on - my mum and I headed to the renal unit at the City Hospital for my regular check-up.

Little did I think that not only would I be getting a thorough check-up from the nurses and doctors, but that I would also actually end up planting a few bulbs afterwards. Mum and I were invited to view the new outdoor renal courtyard, located smack bang in the centre of the renal unit.

Professionally designed, this area is an oasis of calm in the middle of an extremely busy hospital unit in the middle of Northern Ireland's capital city - what a superb idea.

The green-fingered theme is never far away from the renal and transplant units in Belfast, whether it's the planting of flowers and bulbs to create a courtyard for patients, our award-winning Erskine House tree linked to the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, or the amazing late Professor Mollie McGeown, who planted the seeds from which the mighty oak, our renal unit -as we know it today - grew.

Keeping on the horticultural theme, the Dobson household joined the avalanche of seasonal preparations this week as our family Christmas tree appeared - as if by magic - in our bay window.

And with just five weeks left until the big day, you will be delighted to hear that Kidney Care UK Christmas cards are now available from the renal unit at Belfast City Hospital.

A special shout out to Paula for her help and support to enable kidney patients to benefit from the proceeds.

Speaking of supporting, I made the journey down to Dublin with my grandad and cousin Alex to join my beloved green and white army as Northern Ireland took on the Republic in a friendly match. Ultimately, it turned out to be a draw, but it was very clear that we had the better chances throughout the match.

I also joined the GAWA once again on Sunday night at Windsor Park as we took on Austria. It was a disappointing match, with a winning second goal for the visitors.

Another shout out this week to a super kidney mum from Newtownards, Carol Myatt McHugh, who held a fundraising fancy dress night at the Ivy Bar in her home town.

Mum travelled to join Carol outside Asda at Ards Shopping Centre on Saturday to chat with shoppers and to raise funds for her charity, which supports kidney patients and their families.

Through Carol's fantastic fundraising, she raised a truly amazing £1,200, and I want to say a special thank you to her for all that she did.

It's always extra special for someone who has been affected by kidney disease in their family to work to support others - Carol's son, Mark, received a kidney from his brother, Colin, earlier this year.

As you look through those endless catalogues of Christmas presents, which always include novelty socks, a golf ball monogrammer and the obligatory Christmas jumper, please spare a thought for the ultimate gift. Christmas is that time of the year when families come together, and I want to ask you if this year you could consider letting your loved ones know your wishes around organ donation.

We all have it within us to be a lifesaver, but it makes it so much easier for families to honour your wishes if they know what they are.

I know it's a difficult thing to contemplate around Christmas time. However, since we are celebrating the birth of a baby who would go on to give the ultimate gift so that we all can live, surely it's the right time to have that life-saving conversation.

You can find out more about the Kidney Care UK Christmas Cards online at www.kidneycareuk.org/get-involved/christmas

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