Mark Dobson: What a difference a year and a transplant makes
In his weekly column, transplant recipient Mark Dobson, son of former MLA Jo-Anne, enjoys a flying visit from his brother Elliott
As December arrived, so too did my brother Elliott. He was on a flying visit home after returning from a globe-trotting holiday and will be safely back at work in the City of London by the time this newspaper hits doormats.
You may remember that my first post-transplant break was to London in July, when we were able to stay at Elliott's apartment and enjoy some quality time and sightseeing in the capital.
Since then I've been able to enjoy some amazing family times, whether it was in Gran Canaria with my grandparents and mum, or cruising the Mediterranean with my mum.
The past year was dominated by dialysis and routine, lifted by our transplant in March, and topped off by holidaying.
I wish that everyone who is waiting on a transplant both now and in the future were able to feel how I do, to know the freedom which comes from the selfless generosity of another - in my case my mum - and to never forget what that person has done for them.
It was super to have Elliott back with us, and mum was on cloud nine to have both brothers safely back home and being able to plan for a very different Christmas this year than we had last year.
What a difference a transplant makes. It really has given me a new lease of life and, as a family, it has given us the ability to plan and look ahead to what the future has in store.
Elliott will be back again three weeks from now as he flies in on Christmas Eve to join us for the big day and then he's quickly back to work again afterwards.
Well, someone has to look after the economy!
I always think of those who are still waiting on a transplant and, especially at Christmas time I will be thinking of John, Matthew, Margaret, Michael and so many others who I know remain on dialysis at Daisy Hill Hospital, and those at our renal units across Northern Ireland, as well as those who dialyse at home.
It's often the patient who is the focus of care, and that is how it should be, but I am conscious that illness in whatever form never just affects the individual - it impacts on the immediate and wider circle of family and friends.
That's why we must always consider the family impact when talking about support for kidney patients and all patients waiting on a life-saving transplant.
Turning to football, while disappointed by the draw result this month, I have, however, already booked my flights to Amsterdam to cheer from the stands as we take on the Netherlands next October.
Again, this is something I simply wouldn't have been able to contemplate when I was a dialysis patient, although I was able to get to Basel with my grandad, back and forward in one day between dialysis sessions, thanks to the wonderful support I received from Kidney Care UK.
Mum has also been working hard recently to continue to promote organ donation and the Kidney Care UK message - she's been to Enniskillen, Antrim and the renal unit in Belfast, as well as giving constant support to kidney patients, donors and families, including those who are considering putting themselves forward to be a live donor.
Last week, accompanied by William Johnston and Andrew Cromwell, mum met with Northern Trust renal counsellor Libby Weatherup who, thanks to the funding provided from Kidney Care UK, provides counselling services to patients - and, importantly, their families and carers - who are living with kidney diseases and going through tough times.