We are currently working on a campaign for the Mayor and Mayoress of Kendal (Chris and Rachael Hogg). The objective is to encourage an extra 1,000 people in Kendal to register as organ donors during Chris’s year as Mayor.
You would be correct in thinking we were falling over ourselves to be involved. There has been the odd hint made by those less in the know that this is for some sort of notoriety. A hard-nosed business decision to boost our profile. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
My sister, Fiona, is ten years my junior and received a kidney transplant two years ago from a deceased donor. The circumstances were highly unusual but that is her story to tell so I have no intention of delving into the detail.
What I will tell you is the absolute shock and distress of finding someone you love take unwell so suddenly. The fear and uncertainty as you know that life would only improve for that loved one if and when an appropriate donor could be found. As a family we lived like that for 18 months. 18 months which included important birthdays, missed Christmases, a pregnancy and the impending birth of my son. There were possible living donors but with some difficulties, not to mention that this would also rock the lives of so many others had this been the road followed.
During this time and since I have thought a lot about organ donation. As frustrating a situation as Fiona was in I’ve never been angry at people who make a considered decision not to register as an organ donor. I do however get irritated at those who just ‘haven’t got round to it’ or the ones who claim their organs are ‘no good anymore anyway’. I’m no expert but perhaps the professionals should decide on that latter point. People often make the point that if you or your family would be willing to accept a transplant then you should be willing to be a donor. It’s a point I’ve never publicly made but one which I think is difficult to argue with. I still remember signing up when I was 16, slotting the old school organ donor card into my purse and feeling that I had done something meaningful. That was before I knew our family would be personally affected by what it meant to be searching for an organ donor.
We were the lucky ones in that our prayers were answered and a donor was discovered. After 18 difficult months the phone call was received saying that they had found Fiona a donor. I was privileged enough to be there. We had spent an evening at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal drinking wine and eating popcorn. We’d laughed like drains, discussed a questionable guy who was in her life at the time and plotted in detail what we would do once she had received a transplant.
The irony of the timing of that conversation is still not lost on us. When we got home from merrily ignoring our phones it transpired that a Transplant Coordinator had been trying to reach her and she took the call informing her they had found a ‘perfect match’ in my dining room.
The time after was difficult. It was a positive but hellish time for a variety of reasons but again, that is not my story. Nor is it for me to tell the story of the donor and the sadness I suspect their family would have been feeling. There is no better way to describe those few months than they were bittersweet.
I could bang on about how courageous and terrific I think Fiona is but in truth she’s just my sister. She’s the baby I used to carry around and occasionally drop (it wouldn’t be sisterly of me not to mention that this explains a lot). She’s the toddler who I used to initiate games of ‘next door neighbours’ with just so that she’d get out of my bedroom and let me listen to angry girl bands. She’s the child who I taught a very inappropriate song to and somehow still manage to get her to keep it a secret. She’s the teenager who mistakenly thought for a while that I was cool and someone to emanate. Now she’s an adult who is predominantly my friend and cheerleader, as I am to her. I could get mushy but I’ll save that for her. In fact I’ll keep those thoughts in the same book where I store up my best insults for when I next see her.
Anyway what has come out of this sorry affair is I have a sister who is stronger physically and emotionally. She is out there doing what she can to ensure people understand more about organ donation. In fact it was Fiona who hooked us up with Kendal Organ Donor Town. Despite not living in Kendal she heard first because she has her finger on this particular pulse.
It’s refreshing and it feels good to be able to help a cause which has a very prominent place in my heart. It would be brilliant to have an extra 1,000 people registered, we want nothing more than for Chris and Rachael to meet and exceed their goal. But even more importantly we are getting people talking about organ donation. People are thinking and vitally people are registering to be organ donors. More lives will be saved, less people will have to face a lengthy and torturous wait hoping that maybe, just maybe, a donor will come up.
We like to include photos with our blog posts to give them colour. This one was obvious. In a rare ingenious moment I thought to take a photo of me with my beautiful sister as she took the call to say they had found her a kidney. That poignant, perfect, terrifying moment is etched in my memory forever and I feel lucky to be able to visit it again so easily. Knowing the difference that the transplant made to Fiona’s life, as well as to the rest of us, causes the most spontaneous uncontrollable smile every time I look at this photo.