An Amazing Gift
A little boy called Joseph. Cycling. Running. The National Health Service. And the most amazing of gifts. Combined they are the reasons I look forward to Christmas this year.
Working long hours I was juggling the fun and excitement (and tiredness) of a two year old, studying part-time at university whilst trying to find time for cycle training and running. Life was all pretty ordinary. Then, over the winter of 2010, I was struck down with a series of chest infections. By Easter 2011, as yet another infection struck, I found myself rushed into hospital; bad luck; misfortune; either way I had suffered massive heart failure.
Overnight I had gone from cycling 30miles four/five times a week; running 5/6 miles three/four times a week; to being unable to climb the stairs at home. My job went. My studies went. Playtime with Joseph was only ever brief. Simple, ordinary, routine life pretty much stopped.
Under the care of two fantastic Specialist Heart Nurses in Preston I underwent a series of medical treatments and the fitting of a pacemaker. They tried everything possible over the following two years. Sadly it needed more than their amazing effort, kindness and perseverance. Little changed until January 2013 when as I struggled out of bed one morning I collapsed to the floor struggling to breathe or control my body. I suffered a stroke.
I already had cause to be thankful to the NHS for the treatment and care at the hands of some dedicated Oncologists who had treated me for cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) in 1996 and, latterly the saving of my life, following remission which led to high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation at the Christie Hospital throughout 1998. However, following this latest set-back, I soon found myself on the national heart transplant waiting list, reliant upon the skill of NHS specialists once again.
My condition deteriorated as the summer passed; awaiting for a call day or night of a new heart; a call that never came. Little Joseph had continued to grow and by September he was taking the short walk to school each morning casually accepting of the fact that daddy could never take him or pick him up. He rarely complained that daddy couldn’t play Lego for any sustained period or play football, or ride bikes. He worried that daddy sat at the dining room table but could never eat at meal-times.
By November 2013 my condition had reached a critical point and I was admitted to University Hospital of South Manchester – the Northwest Transplant Centre and placed onto the urgent transplant list. Some amazing nursing staff on the Coronary Care Unit cared for me whilst I waited for a moment that could change everything.
My wife and family made the daily trips along the motorway networks. The weeks passed and Christmas decorations began to appear around the hospital; my sons 5th birthday was fast approaching. The nurses became less like nurses and more comparable to surrogate friends. Always leaving their worries and personal stresses behind as, despite working many long hours, they cared, listened, reassured, understood and saved my life.
Just over three long weeks I waited for that call. One false alarm. Then, on Friday 13th, it came. Contemplating the news looking out of the hospital window I considered how fortunate it was that I wasn’t superstitious. A thought interrupted with the sight of two Magpies flying past the window. One for sorrow, two for joy; superstitious or not I laughed and felt better. One for sorrow, two for joy; the story of two unknown families’ lives coming together in the most indescribably joyful yet equally heart breaking way.
The surgeon had kind eyes and voice. As the anaesthetists prepared me he asked how I was feeling. It was Friday the 13th. I smiled mischievously and suggested I was more concerned with how he was feeling today. He smiled; the anaesthetists laughed; not long after I fell asleep. During the surgery a Transplant Nurse kept my family continually up to date with the progress. For them it was a great support during a very long stressful day. Me? I was having the bet sleep ever.
By the afternoon of the 14th I was coming around in the Critical Care Unit. It had to be a quick turn-around I had a phone call to make to wish my little Joseph a Happy 5th Birthday on the 16th, and what a gift we had all received.
By the Monday morning I was taking my first tentative steps down the corridor of the Critical Care Unit. Wide eyed, slow, unsteady, specialist physiotherapist alongside supporting, encouraging, reassuring. By Friday the CCU was a distant memory as I received the specialist care of the Jim Quick Transplant Unit. Walking further and enviously eying the cycle training machine gathering dust in the corner of a room. By the following week that bike was mine – as I cautiously pedalled avoiding the wires and tubes dangling from various parts of my body. Metaphorically I was cycling to get out; riding off to a new life I had been given.
On my nineteenth day after my transplant I was going home. It was January 1st 2014.
My first year anniversary is fast approaching and as a result of the amazing weekly/monthly care I continue to receive from the specialists at UHSM I continue to progress well. It is a long road of recovery but I am now travelling that road. I am very lucky.
It was an unimaginable selfless act I can never comprehend.
A year on from that amazing gift; an act of giving that has continued each and every day. Every day my family and I receive. Every day we remember and we give thanks. It is a gift best captured through the eyes of Joseph who says, ‘Now Daddy has got a new heart he can take me to school some days; We can all go out to the pub for a meal; we can play Lego together; we can go on holiday; Daddy can be at my Birthday party; Daddy can have Christmas with us.’
Whilst it is too early for me to be out running (!) my wife Lorna has recently undertaken the Lytham 10k to raise money for UHSM’s New Start Charity. A fantastic effort for a mum working and having two to look after Joseph and I. Cheered on by family and friends – she completed the run raising over £500.
As for the next year of recovery? Who knows? More playing Lego? Holiday? Family meals out? Maybe – next time I see Bradley Wiggins cycling through our village, rather than just looking on, I will jump on my bike and try and catch up with him and say hello!