The Proudest Moment in my Career
While working on the communications for The British Transplant Games that took place in Liverpool in 2016 I was given the opportunity to set something very special up.
The family on the front row of this picture are the Lloyd family and William Lloyd’s picture sits in the hands of his lovely sister, Julie at the front.
William died following a tragic accident but was a lifelong organ donor card carrier. When the agonising decision to switch off his life support came, his family were asked the difficult but necessary question about organ donation.
Four years later I was sat in the Lloyd family’s cosy and welcoming home listening to stories of William. I get goosebumps thinking back to this time.
William Snr and his wife Phyllis took me back to that day over a cup of tea while we waited for ITV news to come and film them. I was honoured to be given access to some of the private anonymous letters of thanks from the recipients of William’s organs. It’s a delicate and sensitive process and all communication is managed centrally by transplant specialists. They were so unbelievably proud of their son – even in his death. Each of those letters and cards brought comfort and pride to them both.
While the letters remain anonymous and the NHS Blood and Transplant team do not facilitate or organise meets between families and recipients, on occasion there are times when families do meet. With the age of the internet, it isn’t difficult for a donor family or recipient to google their transplant dates or discover social media posts about their donor. Sometimes at events like The British Transplant Games, it does become clear on occasion which person may have been the recipient of a donor family member’s organ.
I had the absolute honour, along with a former transplant nurse Lynn Holt of organising the emotional meeting between William’s family and the gentleman who had received the life saving gift of William’s lungs.
The back row of this picture is John Coyle, his wife Shirley, son and girlfriend. John had been an active member of the Transplant Games since his lung transplant and he would be coming to Liverpool to compete.
The British Transplant Games
The British Transplant Games is an annual event where approximately 800 people from young children to the elderly who have received life-changing organ and tissue transplants come together in celebration. Four days of sporting and social events bring both organ recipients and donor families together in one huge and respectful occasion to honour and remember those who died so others could live.
It is a beautiful, poignant and uplifting event that also carries the important message of families having the organ donor chat. If you carry an organ donor card or you have already signed to the register, it doesn’t matter. In the rare event you would be in a position to donate your organs, it is your family who make that agonising decision. Often when families do refuse organ donation they cite that they did not know their family member’s wishes. So the British Transplant Games is also a PR opportunity to speak on the TV, the radio and in the press about having the chat and clarifying your wishes. (I told my family casually over an Easter dinner that organ donation is my wish should I ever be in this position).
I met the most amazing people working on this event. Holly’s blog was one of the first things I researched before taking on the project as she came up with a Google search and was local. I was thrilled to then go on to meet her in the flesh and be in touch with her throughout the Games. We’ve stayed in touch via Facebook – as you do. Holly has been inspired by my blog to kick start hers again. She writes so well about her struggles and also all the great things that happen too. Well worth a read!
I worked on the Games for 10 months and in the last 6 weeks the coverage really ramped up. I organised for organ recipients and donor families to speak on TV and radio about their experiences. I’d never done anything like this before and at this level. I was also working solo on it so career wise it was a huge challenge.
This is where today’s question comes in…
Professional & Personal Compliments
My work on the transplant games earned me some incredible testimonials for my comms skills. A producer at Good Morning Britain called me “the most can-do proactive and organised PR I’ve ever met!” and Howard Booth from the BBC said “Most PRs promise a mountain and deliver a pebble. What Gemma delivered was a whole Universe.”
It was a huge compliment and it definitely bolstered my confidence as I was winging this and just using my common sense to make it easier to organise interviews with journalists.
Those professional comments aside though, the best compliment came in the form of thanks from both the Coyle and Lloyd families who I mentioned at the start. It was the biggest honour to help them to meet and I was so grateful they allowed this most personal of moments to be filmed – all with the aim of getting families to talk about organ donation.
Here’s a link to that day when they met and the video of John and William on BBC Breakfast can be viewed here. It was the emotional moment that William was able to breathe the same air as his son’s lungs that had saved John’s life. So the biggest career compliment wasn’t just the increase in organ donor register sign ups thanks to the press coverage, it was knowing I’d helped organise something so moving and wonderful for the two families. It is a time in my life I will never forget. Being surrounded by so many uplifting stories of survival and loss, grief and re-birth it was impossible to not feel so grateful for every moment.