Sunday, 4 June 2017

A night of high drama

Another extract from my book published way back in 1994 featuring the various newspaper and magazine articles I wrote under the pen-name of Jonathan Flie.

It was a filthy night. The wind was battering the side of our house and rain hitting the ground so hard it was bouncing up again for several inches. I hate winter afternoons when it becomes prematurely dark, on this day it felt as if it had been dark since lunch time. I had gone out in the car to meet my son's school 'bus and save him the drenching walking home would have given him.

As I pulled up in front of my home my wife was standing there waiting to meet me. "Valley Medical has just phoned, can you go with a driver to Heathrow Airport ?  There's a baby being flown in from Ireland for a transplant in London."

A quick snatch for my camera, notebook and some money before I too was standing in the driveway waiting for the car. I heard the siren well before it pulled up, its blue lights flashing and illuminating the entire street. A night of high drama was about to unfold.

London Heathrow is not the most accessible place on earth and hardly user friendly. On a stormy night with extensive roadworks on the M1 it was going to be difficult. It was the time when that extra lane was being added between the section of road from Luton to the A5 with the contractors thinking it would be fun to close most of the access roads onto the motorway.

The kidney is an organ that will tolerate being out of the body for quite some time but the shorter the period between donor and recipient the better.

The identity of the donor is kept strictly confidential so this particular organ could have come from anywhere in the country, indeed Northern Europe. there was no way we could know the time scale involved but we did know that Valley medical had been charged with getting the patient from the airport to the hospital as quickly as possible.

With the frustration of the motorway roadworks we decided to opt for the A5.  My job was to sit in the passenger seat and work the siren leaving the drive free to concentrate fully on the road. I have to confess to a certain thrill and sense of power as a flick of the switch screamed the cars ahead of us out of the way. But it was a terrific responsibility, not only was it important to get through as quickly as possible but safety had to be preserved not only for ourselves but also for every other road user.

Valley Medical's office had faxed every police force along our route to advise the of our movements. On the M25 officers in a police Range Rover waved and gave us the thumbs up as we passed.

The weather was steadily worsening with gales battering the car.  A severe weather warning was in force and we could not help thinking of our infant charge high up above the Irish Sea. What kind of flight was he having ?

At Terminal One the police were waiting for us and directed car to a reserved place right outside the Aer Lingus gate. It was the first time I have never had any difficulties parking at Heathrow.

Inside Aer Lingus staff were trying hard to cope with the worst night for flying all year.  Many aircraft had been unable to take off from smaller Irish airfields and our flight from Dublin had been delayed. There was nothing to do but wait.

The airline staff were brilliant.  the patient was highlighted on the passenger computer and a special escort detailed to meet him and his mother once the plane was on the ground. Heathrow's police then liaised with customs and immigration to ensure no delay but first the aircraft had to land.

I am afraid I may have made something of a nuisance of myself as I pestered Aer Lingus staff for updates on the aircraft's progress.

"It's just twenty minutes away Sir."

"It's holding in the stack, shouldn't be too long now."

Then, just as we were about to suggest we ask air traffic control if they could run up a ladder and bring everyone down, came the news we wanted. "They are on final approach now."

"The aircraft's on the ground, shouldn't be much longer."

Eventually young Jamie and his Mum emerged. Into the car and we were off down the M4 towards London.

It was two weeks before Christmas and the lights of Harrods shone more brightly than those on the car. We covered the distance from Heathrow to Guys Hospital in just half an hour delivering young Jamie in time for his transplant. Another successful mission for Valley Medical Transport.

That was how my newspaper feature appeared.

Jamie's mother was far away from home and the rest of her family, away over Christmas.

She stayed at Ronald McDonald House in the grounds of Guys Hospital. Later, when my own daughter Rebekah received her transplant my family was to live in Ronald McDonald House for several weeks.  It was also Valley Medical Transport that took her to hospital.  That is another story I will tell later.

My daughter passed away on Friday 19th May aged 34 years.  Tomorrow is her funeral.  She and my family have always supported Ronald McDonald and it is her wish that tomorrow we acknowledge the incredible work Ronald does for families like our and Jamie's.  In the days, weeks and months ahead my diary is going to talk a lot about Ronald.

My daughter's friends are taking part in a FUN RUN in her memory and to support Ronald. They want to raise £1,000.  I am determined it will be £10,000.  Tomorrow everyone celebrating Rebekah's life will be wearing a Ronald McDonald Badge.

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