'It's important that we live our lives to honour our donors'
In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, who is the son of former MLA Jo-Anne, looks back at an important date on his own journey and recalls meeting a special little hero
What a busy week last week turned out to be. Since my surgery, I've felt that the weeks have really passed like lightning, yet as Monday morning dawned, I knew this week would be completely different.
Alongside my usual review appointment at the Renal Unit, we also had a very special ceremony to attend at Queen's University, Belfast. You will remember mum and I getting involved as part of the dedicated team which ultimately ensured that the Erskine House Tree - situated just outside the Cancer Centre - won the Woodland Trust's Tree of the Year for Northern Ireland.
Well this week, and all thanks to the hard work and dedication of Professor Gerry Gormley, we were back under its green leaves and broad branches alongside fellow transplant recipients, donors and donor families to plant some flowers and shrubs, as well as a take part in a ceremony commemorating organ donation.
Mum had been asked to speak in her role as Kidney Care UK ambassador and we were also treated to poetry from advocacy officer William Johnston and some specially-composed, moving music from Dr Ian Walsh, entitled The Gift. It was lovely to be back at the tree among those who worked so hard to bring it to the public's attention, alongside highlighting organ donation.
Well done to Prof Gormley - Mr Erskine House Tree - as well as Dr James Douglas and Patrick Craig, from the Woodland Trust, for their continued dedication to a cause which we hold so close to our hearts. Your efforts are rooted strongly in love and I know that they will endure as we seek to make this celebration an annual event.
Another annual event which is taking place this week involves transplant patients from across Northern Ireland taking part, just as I did when they were held in Northern Ireland in 2011, in the British Transplant Games.
This year, they are being held in Birmingham and I want to give a special shout out to everyone travelling over from Northern Ireland, but especially to the eight children who have received a kidney transplant and are being helped to attend by Kidney Care UK.
As I found out, it's all about the taking part, and not the winning, so please enjoy yourselves and have a ball!
On Thursday, mum and I had the privilege of meeting a very special little 'Heart Hero' - 20-month-old Daithi Mac Gabhann - and his parents, Mairtin and Seph. Mum was on the Nolan Show last Monday morning, taking part in the first section about organ donation, which included an interview with Daithi's parents about his journey and fight for a heart transplant.
It was lovely to meet them all and to share our experiences of the Children's Hospital and what it's like to be waiting on a life-saving transplant. Daithi is truly the life and soul of the party and I really wanted to give his story, which has also been covered here in the Belfast Telegraph, another shout out in my column because it highlights the importance of organ donation and how it affects families who have a loved one waiting on a transplant to save their life.
I hope to catch up with them all again soon as we continue our crusade to promote the organ donation message.
Finally, this week marks a sad anniversary in my transplant journey. On August 1, this day last year, I was wheeled to theatre at the Belfast City Hospital, where my consultant (Super Surgeon), Tim Brown, would undertake the surgery to remove my transplanted kidney.
I will never forget the feelings that came over me as I thought about the family who made the decision to donate their loved one's organs back in 2009 - I received a kidney which gave me eight and half healthy years of as normal a life as possible and will always honour the date which I received that transplant (February 5) and the date upon which it was removed (August 1).
Remembering and honouring come as second nature for transplant recipients. It's important we always live our lives to honour our donors, making sure we remember that at some point during their lives, they took the selfless decision to become a life-saver. That decision has helped thousands upon thousands of people, just like me, to begin a new life and enables us to always hold onto that eternal flame of hope which burns in our hearts that humanity can overcome whatever challenges are placed in our way.
When there's an organ donor, life springs from death, sorrow turns to hope and a terrible loss becomes an everlasting gift.
But, crucially, without the organ donor there is no story, no transplant and no hope. Please think about organ donation and have that all-important conversation - every one of us has it within us to be a life-saver.