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Why Jo-Anne won't stand on the sidelines over organ donation

It was a life-saving phone call.

On a cold February morning, Jo-Anne Dobson awoke to the news that a transplant donor had been found for her teenage son.

At just five weeks old, the UUP MLA's son Mark was diagnosed with severe reflux of both of his kidneys and spent the first years of his life at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children as his kidneys were only working at 19%.

In April 2008, he was placed on the transplant list and in February 2009 he got that important call about his life-saving operation.

Mrs Dobson said: "Your life is completely on hold.

"I think initially for a while you have your phone on permanently and then after a while you resign yourself to the fact that you don't know when the call will come.

"Nothing quite prepares you for when you answer the phone half asleep and someone says 'we have a match'.

She added: "It's a life-changing experience but Mark is one of the lucky ones.

"Fifteen people die every year and we need more lucky ones like Mark who have the chance of life, and who are not staring at a lifetime of dialysis."

Since then, Mrs Dobson has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of organ donation.

She said: "I had a dream that I would love to do something to change the law of organ donation. I know from my son's experience, his life just transformed when you get that call.

"That's why I campaigned for the Private Member's Bill to change the law and by this simple change in the law it means you are automatically on the list unless you chose to opt out.

"But family consent is at the heart of it, if your family decide they don't want to, their decision would not be over-ruled."

Now the UUP MLA has partnered up with the Northern Ireland Transplant Forum to launch a football tournament campaign to celebrate organ donations called Gift Of A Lifetime (Goal).

The event was launched at Parliament Buildings yesterday when Mrs Dobson was joined by donor families, transplant survivors, local charities, and football stars Peter Thompson and Yohann Lacroix.

The tournament will take place on September 29 in the Playball Arena at Stormont.

The Belfast Telegraph spoke to both donor recipient and bereaved families who consented for their loved ones organs to be donated.

Goal organiser William Johnston has been waiting 16 years for a transplant.

He said: "The Goal tournament will have 16 teams competing from across the country, all with a connection to organ donations.

"It's designed to promote organ donation which saves lives and can transform lives."

Crusaders goalkeeper Yohann Lacroix said: "It's really great to be involved with the organisation and to help to raise awareness for such a great cause.

"I think that the tournament will be competitive but a lot of fun."

Mrs Dobson said: "This tournament is vital, it's raising awareness and that is what today's launch is all about.

"The real heroes here are the donor families who made that decision to donate their loved ones' organs.

"The real face of the campaign is a child or someone's wife or someone's father.

"They are all normal people who don't look overtly ill, but they are all waiting on organ transplants.

"Many that I have got to know over the years, have gained some comfort in knowing that the death of their loved one hasn't been in vain."

CASE STUDIES Steve Carter (40) From Glengormley 'So proud mum helped five others live'

My wife died four years ago during childbirth to my little daughter Leah. Denise (39) had a massive brain haemorrhage seconds after giving birth and I had to make the heart-breaking decision the next day whether to have her organs donated. Over the last four years we have been working really closely with all the organ transplant teams.

Myself and the kids have got so involved, we did a massive memorial walk in my wife's name and raised over £3,000 and I'm doing a skydive next week.

It's something that's really gelled our family together and helped us through the hard time of losing their mum. It gets the kids talking about their mum a lot more, we talk about Denise all the time.

They are aged four, six, nine and 10 but they know all about organ donation and they know that she did die, but she ended up helping lots of other people and saving five people's lives.

They've done presentations at school and they love getting involved in all of these things. It keeps their mum's memory alive and her name alive.

It helped me through the grieving stages and one of those is regret, but I never regretted making that decision.

We turned regret in to proudness, the children are so proud of her that she was not only a great person in life but in helping five people in death as well.


Hannah Kee (20) From Lisburn 'I'm fit and healthy and I've never looked back'

In December 2008 I took really ill. It was just a cough and then it showed it up that I had high renal failure. It showed itself as vascularitis which led to kidney failure.

I was on dialysis for 15 months and then I was able to successfully get a transplant from my dad, Gardiner Kee (52) who was a perfect match.

It was in my GCSE year that I took ill, so I had to get home tuition but most of the time I was too ill, and wasn't able to do anything.

I was in hospital for the first three months and I got some visits from friends. I had to get dialysis three or four times a week with early morning starts and I was quite ill on it, it didn't suit me well. This was during my AS-Levels, so I sat most of them at home because I wasn't able to go in to school for them. I came out with 2As and a B. I don't know how I managed to do that.

I'm now in third year at Stranmillis to become a primary school teacher. It's really important to raise awareness, and I don't think people are aware of how important it is, you are more likely to need one than give one.

I took part in the British Transplant Games and the most important thing is being able to take part, not winning medals.

I got my dad's kidney so I think I take my sporting from him. It's changed my life dramatically for the better, I'm doing things a typical 20-year-old would do, I'm fit and healthy and I've never looked back.


Belfast Telegraph