Mark Dobson: War and donor heroes put lives of others before own
In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, recalls a special few weeks at sea on a cruise
As regular readers of my column will know, I have been living it up on the high seas for the past few weeks, aboard the beautiful Celebrity Eclipse.
We visited so many wonderful Mediterranean ports of call, including Valencia, Alicante, Gibraltar, Monaco, Naples and so many more, and were treated like celebrities from start to finish.
They even delivered a wonderful cake to our table on the final evening with 'Transplant Celebrity' iced on it - what a lovely, thoughtful touch, delivered by our superb waiter, Nikhil.
One of the highlights of our cruise was when the ship docked in Alicante, with my mum and I taking a day trip to Benidorm. I should explain that we are both huge fans of the comedy TV series Benidorm, which is set at the fictional Solana all-inclusive hotel, with the colourful characters of Madge, Noreen, Mateo, Mick, Janice and many others stretching across the 10 series.
As the pool scenes were all filmed at the Sol Pelicanos Ocas Hotel, my mum and I just had to call in and see where Madge parked her mobility scooter. It was quite surreal to be standing in the very spot where all the filming had taken place and to see the guests enjoying the sunshine, just as they do in the TV show.
Another highlight was taking the complete tour around the Rock of Gibraltar. While it was mum's second visit to the overseas territory, it was my first, and we certainly got the chance to monkey around as we came face to face with the famous pick-pocketing Barbary macaques.
However, it was the constant presence of the act of remembrance which particularly struck my mum and I throughout our entire cruise. On our ship, there was a beautiful, large mosaic of a poppy, which is a permanent artwork and which I felt took on even greater poignancy as we came closer to Remembrance Sunday. We also got to witness the truly global significance of the poppy symbol, as we saw people wearing, amongst others nationalities, Canadian and Australian poppy badges.
It did make me think of the parallels which there are between giving life, so that others might live through organ donation. We look back on past conflicts and remember those who laid down their lives, many of whom are our relatives, to ensure that others could live and we call those people heroes.
Similarly, we are also proud to call heroes those people who choose to become organ donors, and by that simple act of signing the Organ Donation Register and letting their loved ones know their wishes, they can save up to eight lives.
Making a decision which impacts on the lives of people who you have never met is one of the most beautiful and selfless gifts which we have the power to give, and as I paused on Sunday to remember the heroes who had gone before, I also remembered those organ donation heroes who saved the lives of people who they never knew. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
While the diet may have taken a little bit of dive for a few weeks, I remain as determined as ever to keep on track, as I know how important it is to remain healthy, especially after my transplant. They joked on board that we arrive at the beginning of our cruise as passengers and end up leaving as cargo - which may not in some cases have been an exaggeration!
It was truly a wonderful experience for me and yet another chance to realise that, were it not for my mum and the amazing surgeons and health professionals at Belfast City Hospital, it simply wouldn't have been possible for me to enjoy a holiday in this way.