I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to thank my amazing donor so publicly before now, and I'm so grateful to have been able to do that! I always hope that maybe her family see my thanks, even if they don't know it was me that she saved.
But there is another body that saved my life on that day too - our wonderful, WONDERFUL National Health Service.
Before liver-gate I had only ever seen the side of the NHS that most of us have seen - never an available appointment at the GPs, and a lot of missed targets and frustrated junior doctors on the news. But I'd been lucky enough to have never needed it to be anything else. When I was admitted to Cardiff Hospital on 3rd Jan 2017, I was still able to walk and eat...and continue to tell everybody that there was nothing wrong with me. Hospital was confusing, lonely and scary, with no answers and no drama. It was when I was blue lighted to the Royal Free Hospital in London, a liver specialist centre, that the NHS showed their true colours.
I was on a high dependency unit, I had doctor after doctor after doctor coming to see me. They'd sit with me for 30 minutes, 45 minutes at a time, asking question after question - could I have eaten this, could I have taken that, could I have come into contact with this, how about that, when this, when that, how long this, can you do that. Liver ultrasound, heart scan, liver biopsy, brain scan, these drugs, this IV, this idea. 24 hours a day.
When things got very dicey and toxins started flooding my brain, my memory gets very cloudy. There are however, a few things I remember: more than one doctor phoning in on their day off to see how I was doing, how my transplant coordinator waited with me, holding my hand, until my husband arrived to make sure I stayed awake for him, an ICU nurse stroking back my hair and telling to think strong, that I'd be OK (while refusing me a tuna sandwich but that's another story). I remember reassuring smile after smile after smile.
After the op I remember a lot more. I remember nurses washing my hair and brushing my teeth. I remember nurses sitting next to me and making me feel better when I cried, I remember a doctor coming over to shake my hand and tell me how good it was to see me looking better. I remember having to hold my staples because the nurses were making me laugh so much. I remember my drugs being carefully monitored and even having a special 'pain team' visit me to manage my discomfort. I remember nurses feeding me sugar during a 2am hypo and still patiently looking after me 13 hours after their shift had started. I remember the doctors coming to visit me every day with their clipboards and their smiles.
And every time I walk back into the Royal Free Hospital, even now a whole year later, the smell is so memorable I start grinning. What should have been the worst time of my life, may well have been the scariest, but, because of the people at the forefront of our NHS, is was definitely not the worst. In fact, those days post-op, when I'd just dodged death, was maybe the purest happiness I've ever felt.
And so I wanted to thank them. I wanted to do something that I would never ever have been able to do if they hadn't brought me back to life so completely. So it had to be physical, and it had to be big! The biggest empty bit of space I could find + Strava + a GPS tracker + my husband + cake. Thank You NHS, from the bottom of my heart.