Interview: Mark Smith | Living North

Interview: Mark Smith

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Mark Smith
In celebration of National Organ Donation Week, we chat to double organ transplant recipient and charity fundraiser Mark Smith about the importance of the Organ Donor Register

So your Charity Ball is coming up in October.
Yes, it is. The main bulk of the funds are going to Kidney Care UK, who I’ve worked with in the past. But we’re also donating a small fraction to a group called the Donor Family Network, who look after families that either have living or deceased relatives who have passed on transplants to people. So they’re a support group for people going through that process. But also the aim of this dinner is centred on advocating the need for more organ donors.

You’re the recipient of a double organ transplant. How was it for you meeting your donor’s family?
Surreal hits the nail on the head. When you see your donor’s mum you get a bit tongue-tied – what can you say? It was made even more surreal because, as it’s so unusual to meet your donor’s family, their support worker had arranged for press to be there, so we did three back-to-back interviews. They didn’t tell us we were doing that until we turned up, so we had to be on the ball! I don’t know whether that was a good or a bad thing. It’s still a very unusual thing to happen, to meet the donor family. There’s a lot of people that find it a hard thing to do, because it’s so emotive. You’ve been through something so life-saving, literally, so to meet the person that’s had a hand in that is stupendous.

It must mean a lot to the donor’s family. 
I remember my donor’s mum saying to me it was like a little bit of her son had come home. I struggled with that for a short while, but now I can see where she’s coming from. But I’m pleased we got in touch. We had our eldest daughter after my transplants. We had three lots of IVF before the transplants and they hadn’t worked; I was made redundant as well, there were all sorts of things going wrong with kidney failure and having really low blood sugars – I’m diabetic, so we had paramedics coming round all the time. And then we went back to the IVF after the transplant and it worked. Just coincidentally, nothing more than that. So I wrote back to my donor’s family to tell them about that, because we thought that it was important they knew that not only had their son’s donation saved my life, but it was also instrumental in bringing about another one. 

Tell me more about the work you’ve done with Kidney Care UK and Organ Donation.
I’ve done the two walks [along Hadrian’s Wall the Yorkshire Three Peaks] and the upcoming ball, all aimed at raising awareness about organ donation and raising money for Kidney Care UK, and I’ve also spoken in Westminster about organ donation. As it stands, we’ve raised nearly £11,000 for charity. That sends out a message to the wider public that these are the sort of things people who’ve had organ transplants can achieve if you, or people you know, join the Organ Donor Register. It’s not just the net effect of you saving someone’s life; I think to think that if I get one person signed up to the Organ Donor Register, who then goes on to save someone else’s life, that’s my job done – but hopefully I’ll be do a lot more than that! My donor saved five lives. In fact, someone received a liver from my donor who was pretty much guaranteed to pass away that night if he hadn’t had it. So in some ways, the fundraising is secondary to the message about the organ donation for me. 

Why aren’t more people signed up to be an organ donor?
The main thing we find is that people just don’t talk about it. Whether that’s because it can be a taboo subject or you’re talking about your own mortality. It’s difficult to bring up, that’s the biggest barrier we have. So a lot of the campaigning that we’re doing at the moment is aimed at getting people to have the conversations about it; it’s only a two or three minute conversation, there’s opportunities to sign the Organ Donor Register, and then you never have to think about it again. People signing when they’re getting their driver’s licence application actually works really well, because it’s in people’s faces. That’s exactly what my donor did. That made him have a conversation with his parents, which subsequently made it easier (if there is such a thing at that time) for them to say: ‘yes, we will agree to donate his organs to go on and save people’s lives.’ 

So it’s about normalising that conversation? 
It is. There’s a lot of call to change to an ‘opt-out’ system, and part of the work we doing is trying to get the government to change their stance on opt out. Some people approach me and tell me that it would take their choice away from them – no, you still have a choice. All we’re making you do is have a conversation about it. We want people to be in a position where they have to make that conscious decision. 

And you’re doing musical theatre now?
Yeah, it’s great fun to do! It’s something that I’ve always loved doing anyway, but obviously after the transplant I had to take some time out. This year was the first year that I’ve gone back into doing it in a really big way – in January I did a big musical, Made In Dagenham, on the main stage in Harrogate Theatre, in front of 2,500 people every run. It was an absolute thrill and a real milestone for me, to say I’m properly back now. 

 

Mark's Charity Ball will be held on 26th October at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. 
To help, donate or for more information about Mark’s fundraising, visit: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-gala-dinner-in-support-of-kidney-care-uk-and-or...

Sign up to be an organ donor register at: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

Published in: September 2018

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