Two mums on why they're happy to give their sons the gift of life ... for a second time
Sarah, from Ballymena, donated a kidney and part of her liver to her boy Joe, while within weeks former MLA Jo-Anne hopes to give her son Mark a kidney. They tell Stephanie Bell why they made their decision without a second's hesitation
As we prepare to say thank you to our mums tomorrow, two Northern Ireland women have shown that a mother's love really does know no bounds.
Former Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson is preparing to go through major surgery to give one of her kidneys to save her son Mark's life, while her friend Sarah Lamont, from Ballymena, is recovering from two major surgeries when she gave her son Joe (5) one of her kidneys and part of her liver last year.
The two women have now joined forces as part of a Kidney Care UK team that will run in this year's Belfast Marathon when they hope to highlight the need for more organ donors as well as raise funds for the charity.
Having watched their children suffer as they wait for life-saving donor organs both mums didn't hesitate to volunteer to be tested and say they felt only relief when told they were a match.
For them it was a simple decision. Jo-Anne (50) says: "I gave birth to Mark and it feels like this is a chance to give him life for a second time. It feels really good to be able to do it and I also feel very lucky to be able to do this for my child."
And Sarah (37), a mum-of-three, is elated that she has helped save her young son's life as well as seeing his quality of life transform since the surgery.
She says: "You would do anything to see your child grow up and be healthy and there is a bit of me in him keeping him alive and it's lovely to know that."
Sarah and Joe came through their surgeries early last year while Jo-Anne and Mark hope to have their live donor transplant within the next few weeks.
Though it's the sort of intervention that even the most loving of mothers might privately harbour concerns about, Sarah (37) maintains she just felt fortunate that she was in a position to save her young son's life. Indeed, she is convinced that she would have lost Joe if that had not been the case.
Having watched her little boy spend most of his first four years in hospital she marvels at the healthy, boisterous youngster he is today.
"Joe is a different child," she says simply. "He is really hyper and never stops. I never thought I would be saying that.
"It is actually amazing how his life has been turned around. If I had more kidneys to give to other people I would happily do it.
"Joe loves life and can do all the things he couldn't do before.
"Part of his condition meant he wasn't growing and in the past year he has just sprouted up. He had missed out on so much being in hospital and it's just fantastic to see him like a normal wee boy."
Joe was born with a rare condition - autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease - and had to have his kidneys removed. He also developed advanced liver disease, which without a transplant was life-threatening.
Sarah, who also has an older boy Max (13) and a daughter Eve (11), recalls how she suggested becoming a donor when she realised her son was at risk of dying.
She says: "In June 2016 Joe had been on the transplant list for over a year and there was no sign of him getting a call.
"Because of his blood type and the fact he needed a liver as well as a kidney I don't believe they would ever have found a donor in time.
"I didn't realise I could donate part of my liver. It is quite rare for a live donor to give a kidney and liver and I contacted Birmingham Children's Hospital to ask if I could donate.
"It is not done very often and there were concerns because after donating a kidney your liver numbers can go off. I went through a lot of tests.
"Because I am a single parent they even looked at who would look after Joe while I was recovering - that's how thorough they are."
Both mother and son had two major operations in Birmingham. And while Sarah was back on her feet within a couple of days, little Joe had to spend three months in hospital recovering.
Happily, though, since then they haven't looked back.
Sarah says: "If I hadn't been able to donate my organs I don't think Joe would have made it. I'm very fortunate that I was able to give him my organs as a lot of other people don't have that choice. I really would urge people to let their wishes on organ donation be known.
"Have that conversation with your family because even if you sign the donor register your family will still have to make the decision and they need to know your wishes."
For the Dobsons, this will be Mark's second transplant. The 24-year-old was born with renal problems and had his first kidney transplant when he was 15, but had to have the organ removed last summer after it began shutting down.
It was a devastating blow to him and his mum, dad John (53), a farmer, and brother Elliott (26). Ever since, he has been travelling from the family farm in Waringstown for dialysis three to four days a week at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. He has been writing about his experiences in a weekly column for the Belfast Telegraph.
When Mark first needed a transplant in 2008 Jo-Anne had been getting tests to see if she was a compatible donor. Then, an organ became available.
Last year, however, when it became apparent he would need another transplant she didn't hesitate to be retested.
She says: "We had nearly nine years with Mark having his health back and when you have had an ill child and he has good health again and suddenly that is taken from him it is tough.
"It was last January when they picked up that his kidney function was getting lower and he went through a series of tests and scans and we had to face the reality that the kidney was starting to fail.
"We always knew Mark might need another transplant. When you become part of the transplant family it is like a lottery. You know that it could last 30 years or three hours and you just hope against hope that it is okay and you enjoy the normality while you can.
"It makes you appreciate every single minute of every day and it makes you very aware that time is precious and you should take nothing for granted."
When the call came through on July 11 last year that the kidney would have to be removed, mother and son shed tears together. They both felt sad for the donor family who had kindly donated the kidney that had given Mark such a good quality of life for nine years.
Jo-Anne says: "It may sound bizarre but we both really felt for the family who had given Mark this gift. We felt sad for them as it was a loss for them too.
"Mark had his kidney removed on August 1 and it has been a roller coaster of emotions but Mark and I keep up for each other and it's just part of the journey.
"He is very positive and I think that makes all the difference."
Jo-Anne immediately volunteered to have the tests done again. It is a thorough process and she and Mark were both relieved at the end of it to be told that Jo-Anne was both compatible and fit enough to undergo surgery to have her kidney removed.
She says: "First time round the consultant told Mark that I was money in the bank for him for the future and I had no hesitation whatsoever.
"I am proud I can do it for my son and I think every mum I know would do it if they were in the same position.
"The team at Belfast City Hospital are simply amazing and I can't thank them enough for their support."
Jo-Anne and Mark are now waiting on a date for their surgery which they hope will be soon.
The mother and son are known for their campaigning on behalf of patients waiting on organ donation and Jo-Anne was delighted to be recently appointed Northern Ireland Ambassador for Kidney Care UK.
She is helping organise two relay teams for Belfast City Marathon in May to raise funds for the charity and awareness of the need for people to make their wishes on organ donation known to their loved ones.
She says: "I've signed up for the marathon but I am not sure if I will be recovered enough to do it but hopefully I will.
"Everyone who has decided to take part so far has their own transplant story to tell and anyone else who wants to join us will be more than welcome."
Jo-Anne adds: "It is a chance for us to give something back and help kidney patients who need practical support. It is also about camaraderie and having a wee bit of fun and all of us have the same common goal - to raise money to help kidney patients and also to raise awareness of organ donation."