Mark Dobson: Thanks and remember... we can all be a lifesaver!
In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, signs off with memories of a moving year
On Saturday, mum and I travelled to St Matthew's Parish Church in Richhill to bid a very sad farewell to my dialysis buddy Matthew Clarke.
Regular readers will remember me talking fondly about how Matthew, known to us all as Matt, had looked after me while I was a dialysis patient at Daisy Hill Hospital.
I remember well my first day on dialysis back in August 2017 after I had my kidney removed at Belfast City Hospital. Mum and I travelled down to Newry and walked into a completely new environment for me - the dialysis unit.
Matt, a long-term dialysis patient, was lying in the bed opposite me and for a 'new boy' on the all-male ward I remember how he looked after me and how we joked and bantered with the nurses and auxiliaries who were hooking four of us up to our dialysis machines. I also remember the clamber we had to get released from our sessions first and how Matt frequently pipped us to the post.
I also remember how Matt always called my mum 'mother' and regularly talked about 'mother' heading off to do some work while we were undergoing our four hours of treatment together.
When you spend 12 hours each week in the same room as three other people - a way of life for all dialysis patients - you get to know their ways and bonds are created which in my case endured after I left Daisy Hill Hospital when I had my transplant last March. We were so proud to call Matt a firm friend and are all the poorer for his loss.
I will never forget how supportive he was to mum and her charity Kidney Care UK - along with his wife Doreen raising funds to help fellow kidney patients while himself enduring a lifetime on dialysis - the measure of a man who put others first and who never complained.
Kidney patients are a unique bunch. We come in all shapes and sizes and from all arts and parts, but we have one constant need. Whatever stage of kidney disease we have, whether pre- or post-transplant surgery, we must rely on the selfless and continued generosity of others.
We owe an impossible debt of gratitude to the men and women who look after us - the superhero professionals like surgeon Tim Brown, Dr Aisling Courtney, Dr Neal Morgan and countless others across our health service who I have mentioned in my column on so many occasions.
These are professionals at the very apex of their fields on not just a Northern Ireland or UK basis but in a world-leading capacity.
Since I first started to talk transplants through the pages of the Belfast Telegraph, I have been immensely proud to help to bring the organ donation message to readers each Wednesday.
Whether it was joining the team at the Belfast City Marathon, working alongside organ donation charities to highlight the need to support patients and research, supporting so many people taking on crazy fundraising challenges or highlighting my experience on dialysis and then our live kidney transplant, I have thoroughly enjoyed jumping out from the pages of your Wednesday 'Tele'.
I am grateful to the Belfast Telegraph for enabling me to keep the flame of hope alive not just for kidney patients but for transplant patients across Northern Ireland.
However, with the first anniversary of our kidney transplant rapidly approaching on March 20 - our kidneyversary - I feel the time is right to take a step back and focus directly on supporting the needs of kidney patients.
Don't worry - I'm not going away that easily and will continue to keep the organ donation message alive through the news and features sections of the paper.
A special thank you to everyone who keeps in regular contact with me about the issues which I have been raising in more than 60 issues of my column and for your continued support, love and encouragement for both myself and mum to continue to do what we do in supporting the needs of local kidney patients.
Remember what I have said so many times before - we all have it within us to become a lifesaver!