Monday, 24 August 2009

This woman is awesome!

Louise - truely beautiful in every sense of the word

I know that I am constantly saying here that the person I met today is truley inspirational, awesome, amazing... All of these wonderful people I have photographed are that. Each of the stories I have told on this blog are of people who have been through what most never even contemplate and have come out shining like gold. Within these stories are a handful of people who are those people who touch you. You meet them and you know your life is never going to be the same again, that they have given you something special of themselves and that it will shape the rest of your life. Louise is one of these people.
Louise is an advocate for Life Live Then Give Life. You can read the beginning of her amazing (see I've said it again) story here As italic writing at the botton of the page says, Lou got her transplant. Like the other transplant recipients I have introduced you too, her story doesn't end there. Unlike some of the others though, her story has remained one of fight, tremendous courage and great uncertainty. Louise lives about 10 minutes from me. Her photo shoot should have been the easiest to arrange but it has been the hardest and, in the end, I grabbed her after lunch while I was photographing all the advocates for LLTGL at their away weekend yesterday. I was meant to be photographing her today in the woods at the top of Addington Hill (she was going to get a taxi there not climb). I could tell within a few minutes of meeting her that, after the advocate's weekend, that was going to be too much for her. We had tried about five times to arrange the shoot but, each time, Lou is just too tired.
Transplants are dangerous. They are life saving but they are dangerous. At assessment for transplant, you are given a huge list of potential complications. One of these is something called PTLD. This is a form of cancer caused by the common old glandular fever virus. In an immunosupressed person the virus can multiply locally in the body and cause a malignant tumour. Sadly, Lou is currently battling PTLD and undergoing chemotherapy. If that were not enough, she also has a form of heart failure caused by her underlying condition that led to her needing her lung transplant.
One of these things alone would be enough to make most of us give in and take a time out from life. Not Lou. She was there at the advocate weekend with her Mum's support and remains fully commited to raising awareness of transplants and organ donation. On September 6th, Louise is going to hug a tree for 2 hours to raise money for Live Life Then Give Life and CLIC Sargent. Why not sponsor her here. Louise truely is inspirational and it isn't just the things she is doing. She oozes optimism and positivity. I have spoken to her on the phone when she could hardly breathe at all and she still bubbled over with vibrancy. You can see it in her eyes as soon as you meet her and I hope the pictures show it. You come away from any contact with Louise thinking, if she can be so positive about the lot she has on her plate then I should be able to find so much to smile about. Her attitude to life is infectious. I can't wait to see her again and I know I will take something of her spirit away with me through the rest of my life's journey so thank-you Lou.
You can follow Louise's blog here. I strongly recommend it, especially on a day when you are feeling a bit sorry for yourself.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Three Beautiful Girls

Bethany, six months after her liver transplant

Bethany and her sister, Eloise, enjoying art and crafts at The National Railway Museum

Eloise in the spotlight

The last couple of days were supposed to bring a whistle stop tour of Manchester, after first stopping of at York to meet another family whose child has recently had a life saving liver transplant. It didn't all go completely to plan. The blog title should have been four beautiful girls but the fourth, someone waiting for a transplant, was unwell with an infection and, potentially a stomach bug. As William was travelling with me, it meant that shoot had to be postponed as infection, especially stomach bugs can be dangerous for him.

We still had a good couple of days and captured some great images. We started off at The National Railway Museum in York where we spent the day with Bethany and her family. Bethany had a liver transplant early this year. You can read about her life before transplant here The difference Bethany's transplant has made to her is clear to see as soon as you look at her pink, healthy face and watch her endlessly run and dance around with boundless energy. William adored her and Eloise. Eloise has been an important part of Bethany's transplant journey. The family were able to stay together in a flat near the hospital while Bethany was recovering. Siblings often get left out and marginalised when there is a sick child in he family. This was something I explored in the pictures I took of them. Overall, the pictures reflect two very happy and healthy little girls, full of love and energy. There are a lot of them too. I will have a hard job chosing which to use in the exhibition and book.
From York, William and I travelelled to Manchester, staying over night in a Travelodge, which was an interesting experience. William refused to sleep! I was somewhat tired when I met Holly the next morning.
Holly received a kidney transplant at the end of last year. Many people will know her face as she is a tireless campaigner for organ donation. She was featured on Channel 4's Battlefront programme and has been on TV and in the media a lot with her 'Gift of Life' campaign. Holly is also an advocate for Life Life Then Give Life and you can read more about her here

I had originally thought of capturing Holly doing her campaigning but many a photographer before me has done that for the numerous articles about her. Instead, we wondered around Manchester, enjoying some of the things that were impossible for Holly to do before her transplant. We were thrown out of 'Harvey Nics' where we tried to take some shots of Holly lusting over Jimmy Choos and sequened gowns. Apparently, Jimmy Choos may not want to be associated with this! We should have applied for a permit to find out. Another practical lesson learned. Holly was keen to be pictured with ice-cream, something she wasn't allowed when on dialysis. In true British tradition, the heavens opened as soon as we had bought some. Our plans for shots of Holly enjoying a summer ice-cream beside The Windmill were scuppered and we had to head for shelter. Thanks to Selfridges and Marks for the under cover walkway we sheltered in and the interesting back drop we took advantage of. No-one stopped us in there and we got our shots.

Holly enjoying her ice-cream and remembering the days when it was strictly off the menu.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Jemma, Michelle and Thirty Amazing Children

It has been a while since I last posted on here. I went away on holiday to Mum and Dad's with the children a couple of days after the meeting Nicola and Megan. While I was there, I met Jemma and her Mum Michelle. Michelle and Mum got chatting one day and quickly became good friends, not least because they had something very big in common. Mum was Grandma to a little boy who we knew was likely to need a small bowel transplant at some time and Michelle was Mum to a grown up girl who was waiting for a kidney transplant.
Jemma was diagnosed with end stage renal failure six years ago, in 2003. Michelle donated a kidney to Jemma in 2004 but, sadly, the transplant failed within hours. After four years on the transplant waiting list, Jemma received a second transplant in August last year, just as William was going on the waiting list for his new bowel. This kidney was rejected after four months and Jemma is now back on dialysis and waiting for a third chance at a new life, free of the tubes and machines that keep her alive. Jemma does her own dialysis at home overnight, a system called APD or ambulatory peritaneal dialysis. She does this overnight, every single night of her life.
We shot Jemma and Michelle's photographs in Mum and Dad's lovely garden and conservatory. It was a dull summer evening and it began to rain hard during the shoot. This was something that became a very powerful feature on the image I will be using for the exhibiton, an image I really like and had to fight hard with myself not to show you now.
However, I can share some more photos of some amazing and inspirational children. We went straight from Mum and Dad's to The British Transplant Games in Coventry. William was competing with the Birmingham Children's Hospital Team and I had the privilege to photograph them throughout the weekend, as well as talking to the children about their transplants, the games and how both have influenced their lives. It was a fantastic and moving experience. The children are awesome and I was so proud to see them win the trophies for the best liver team and the best overall children's team for the 14th year in a row.
Do have a look at them. A few of them will be used in the Gifts of Life exhibition but I am not sure which ones yet. There are so many that I really like and all of them tell a story about transplants and how they save and transform lives. You can find them here.