It is spring 2013 and I am on the motorway driving towards Cambridge. My sister sits beside me, pale and tense and, for once, it is nothing to do with my driving. Suddenly the traffic parts and an ambulance screams through, blue lights flashing, sirens wailing. In the back of that ambulance is my sixteen-year-old nephew. My sister blinks back her tears, winds down the window and I wonder if she is about to be sick.
Even as I re-read that first paragraph, it sounds like something from a novel, but sadly there was nothing fictional about this scenario - it was a real life (and death) situation.
As a writer, I tend to avoid writing too specifically about anything or anyone I hold very close and dear, but today I am going to ignore all that because this week is National Transplant Week and I want to encourage everybody, young and old to discuss their thoughts on organ and tissue donation. The story of my nephew, Max, was the inspiration for my most recent YA novel, “A Flash of Blue”, but it turns out that Max was also the inspiration behind a character and plot-line in Emma Carroll’s magical MG book, “In Darkling Woods.”
Emma and I met up a few weeks ago and, given the thread of heart transplant running through both our books, decided that we would like to help publicise the organ donor campaign and to support it in any way we could. We would both like to thank the generosity of Michelle for allowing us to do this.
Just over two years ago it seemed like a pretty average Sunday morning in my house. I did a bit of writing and we had friends coming to lunch. The phone rang - as phones do - and as soon as I heard my sister’s voice, I knew something was very wrong. She told me, as calmly as she could, that my 16 year old nephew’s heart had stopped working and he was fighting for his life in critical care. Within a few minutes, I had sent messages to colleagues at work, had packed a bag, jumped in my car and headed straight for the hospital in Southampton. As the situation deteriorated, it became clear that my nephew needed to be moved to a specialist transplant unit. Within hours he underwent emergency surgery to allow his heart function to be carried out by a machine outside his body. It was a roller-coaster time and as soon as he was stable enough, he was put on the list to receive an emergency heart transplant; a transplant that was his only hope of a future. A few weeks later a donor heart became available and was successfully transplanted. He was one of the lucky ones and if I could, I would share my gratitude with the world.
There aren’t enough donors and that is the sad and simple fact of the matter. Every day in the UK three people die while waiting for a transplant. Three people every day. To become a donor is probably the most personal of personal decisions and every person’s choice should be respected. When my nephew went into hospital, I wasn’t a registered organ donor - not because I didn’t want to be, but simply because I hadn’t really thought about it or got round to it. But a few days in a transplant unit focuses the mind, I can tell you. I went home, registered as a donor and it felt like one of the most meaningful things I had done in my life. If the unthinkable happens to me, how do I want my story to end? With nothing? Or with the hope that I may be able to give someone else the chance of a better life? And as I looked around at all those brave people in the critical care unit waiting for a transplant - many of them very young - how did I want their stories to end? Happily, of course.
I often feel as if I put a small part of my heart into every story I write. If you could write your story, from the point of view of a donor or a recipient, how would you want it to end? My hope is that all of us will live a long and happy life, but my hope is also that all of you will think about becoming an organ donor and, if you decide it is something you want to do, to register on https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk and make your family aware of your wishes. There is no age limit, young or old. Any one of us could help to save or improve more than 5 lives. How incredible is that? Is there anything greater than the gift of life?
Thanks to one amazing person, my nephew is now 18 and off to university. Thanks to the promise I made to him when he was waiting for his transplant, I wrote “A Flash of Blue” and he was by my side at its launch in April 2015.
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