Friday, April 24, 2009

Gifts of Life

I have been super busy with lots of projects over the past couple of weeks... most excitingly of all I have teamed up with Sarah and her 'Gifts of Life' photography project. I first heard about her great idea when I was sunning myself in Australia, and thought it was absolutely fab. She has set up a website - which you can view here - containing information on the project and a gallery which is going to be regularly updated with photos over the next few months. Sarah is going to be taking photos of those waiting for a transplant or who have received one. Having just gone through the small matter of a living kidney transplant (Hi Oli!) I have decided to base my part of the project on this.

Sarah has been beavering away and has secured an amazing gallery for the exhibition to be held at in December - The Menier Chocolate Factory. We went to visit it today - it's perfect, and will look even better once it's covered in our photos! We also had a coffee at the Tate Modern and chatted about the whole project. I came away feeling hugely inspired and raring to get going. I wrote the pitch below tonight which I am going to be posting around the internet to try and acquire subjects for the photos. So if you're reading this, and have been/going to be part of a living kidney donor transplant get in touch...and pass the word on! :)

As many of you may have heard Sarah Milne - photographer and Mum of William who received a life saving small bowel transplant last year is exhibiting a series of photographs entitled 'Gifts of Life'. The photographs will capture people waiting for their gifts of life or who have received their gifts.

I was diagnosed with ESRF (end stage renal failure) in 2003, and waited five long years on the transplant list for a new kidney. My amazing friend Oli came forward and donated his kidney to me in October 2008. This act of pure selflessness has literally changed my life, I have never felt better. As part of The Gift of Life exhibition I am going to be doing a series of portraits of live donors and their recipients.

My aim of the project is to capture the strong bond between a kidney recipient and live donor. This is such a special and extraordinary relationship. I want the photos to represent this relationship and the donor's heroic act and to explore the bond between donors and recipients whether it be friends, family members, altruistic, work colleagues or spouses.

It takes a very special person to donate an organ in order to save another's life. Having a strong understanding of the process of living kidney donation I am particularly interested in the donors themselves – why they made the decision that many others wouldn't even consider and the recipient – how they felt receiving the gift of life from someone they know. I want my photos to reflect this.

During my time spent with my subjects I will no doubt be swopping hospital experiences and transplant stories. I think that the fact that I will have a huge amount in common with my subjects will give the project a different outlook and help me bond with them more easily, which I hope will be reflected in the photos.

I will meet with the couple beforehand to chat and get a sense of their personalities and then decide on the set up and location of the photo. What I'd like to achieve is a picture where the viewer has a sense of who these people are and how they feel, I want to move people and inspire them.

The photos are going to be used specifically to raise awareness of organ donation, and also support and promote the charity Life Life Then Give Life. The photos are going to be exhibited at the Menier Gallery from the 14th - 19th December alongside Sarah's photos, with the plan of more exhibitions across the country. The photos will also appear on my blog and website, and I will make up a booklet for the exhibition will will contain all the photos I will have taken throughout the project.

My passion is photography. I've studied it at University of the Arts in London and been lucky enough to have been commissioned to work for various companies such as Innocent Drinks, Art In Site and Divertimenti Cookery School. You can view my photos at My own personal website is in the making!

I am looking for people to appear in these photos. I'd love to hear from anyone who has had a living donor kidney transplant, or anyone who has a living donor transplant planned for in the future. Please get in touch at if you are interested in being photographed or have any questions about the project

Please also get in touch if you are interested in helping out with the project or exhibition in any way. As I will need to fund the printing and framing of the photos, I will be trying to raise funds and looking for sponsorship. Sarah and I are also looking for any other venues that might be suitable to exhibit the photos. So if you can help in anyway, that would be absolutely fantastic...It's all about getting the word out about organ donation!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

donor day

Oli and I set out bright and early to Spittlefields Market where we set up our stall and attempted to lay out the leaflets in an artistic and eye catching fashion. By handing out the 'tea bag' flyers we seemed to grab people's attention and one by one people started to come over and sign up there and then.

It was facinating meeting all the different people who came over to our desk - some who had been meaning to sign up and had never got round to it, some who hadn't given it a second thought until seeing our desk and some who were unsure and wanted to ask questions about the whole process. I also chatted to a girl about my age who told me a good friend of hers had died last week and had donated his organs and saved a total of 6 people. She said it made his sudden death not feel like a complete waste and the fact that 6 people were now going to live gave her and his family and friends comfort. "At least something positive has come out it" she said.

At around lunchtime Holly S arrived along with her entourage from Channel 4. They filmed our desk for a while and then went to a nearby office who were also holding their own Donor Desk.

At around 4.30pm when we had signed up over 50 people there and then, we packed up and made our way over to the Donor Day drinks which was held at a private member's club in central London. It was an absolutely amazing night - I met so many wonderful people including the lovely Sarah Milne who's little boy William's life was saved by a small bowel transplant last year, Oli Barrett (Holly's mentor), Emily and Holly's families, Oli Lewington (a double lung transplant receipant) and many more who I will stay in touch with.

Holly stood up and tearfully did a inspiring speech where she thanked everyone for their hard work and also her donor and their family for changing her life.

To top the amazing day off Holly then received a phone call from the PM's health secretary who informed her that the PM had not only given her a quote of support but he'd like her to pop round for a cup of tea too! To think that the campaign had started with an idea by Holly a few months ago and now the PM was showing his support and wanted to meet her was incredible! Such an incredible end to the night. Click here to see the article.

As Holly and her mentor both said in their speeches that they want to keep going with the Gift of Life appeal. So stay tuned, it looks like this isn't the end, it's only just the beginning...

left to right - Oli, me, Emily, Maribel and Freya

Thursday, April 9, 2009

donor day photocall

What a week...Oli arrived at my house on Sunday evening for a big family supper and early on Monday morning we set off to Leicester Square for the Donor Day photo call, which Holly S had organised to publicise her fantastic campaign - 'The Gift Of Life'.

It was so amazing to meet everyone there, especially Holly S and Emily who I had got to know through our blogs and through our common interests (transplants!). Despite the fact we'd never met before we immediately all got on and talked non stop. I also met lots of other transplant recipients including the lovely Molly who has had a small bowel, liver and pancreas transplant and Maribel who has had two liver transplants. Channel 4 were also there, filming for the documentary they are making about Holly's campaign. Having a camera stuck in your face every time you spoke soon became a normality!

That's me in the pink tights

The photographers arrived and we posed waving the tea bag flyers about and huddling around the Donor desks. Emily ran off to try and find some celebrities to be in the photos (Leicester Square is quite celeb ridden early on a Monday morning due to quite a few radio stations being located there) and came back two minutes later with the lovely Faye Ripley from Cold Feet. Cold Feet being one of my most favourite TV dramas ever I was just a little bit star struck and had to hold back from throwing myself at her and rambling on about all the life lessons I'd learnt from Cold Feet! Anyway, she was fab and said she wholeheartedly supported the campaign and was happy to be photographed wearing the Gift of Life t-shirt.

Faye and Holly S

The first person to sign up

Oli and I wondered off for some lunch with my Mum after the goodbyes, and as we were nearing Soho my phone rang. It was Emily who informed me that Alexandra Burke (winner of the X-Factor)'s Mum, Melissa Bell, was coming down to be photographed. She is waiting for a kidney, and both her and Alexandra were very supportive of the campaign. Seeing as the photographers had gone Oli and I rushed back and took lots of photos of Melissa. She was such a lovely lady - she said she found it very moving meeting people that had had transplants and were doing so well, and living life normally again. Fingers crossed Melissa's kidney comes along soon, she deserves it.

Melissa (on the left) with everyone

Holly and Melissa

More on Donor Day tomorrow...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

home sweet home

I left the land of Oz a couple of days ago, and am now back in sunny (yes, sunny) London. Apparently Spring arrived whilst I was away.

My three weeks of relaxation, reading, exploring and spending time with my bestest friend has done me and Kasper the world of good. I feel refreshed and healthy and a lot less stressed. Yesterday I popped into the hospital for a normal check up and they were so pleased with my progress that they have allowed me to not come back for 5 weeks! Weirdly I suddenly felt like someone had snatched away my security blanket when I was told this, but the Doctor assured me that they were always there if I needed them (said security blanket was returned and I felt better.)

Me wading through the rough torrents of the ocean, photo by Han.

I have uploaded lots of photos from Australia on to my flickr account which is you can check out here. I'm getting some films developed today as well as the digital ones, so shall we adding those over the next few days too.

The next week is going to be particularly busy with various things - most importantly Oli is coming to stay! We haven't seen each other in quite a few weeks, so I am really looking forward to spending some time with him, and reuniting Kasper with his twin brother. Oli is coming down to help out with Donor Day which is on 7th April. There are going to be lots of donor desks all over the UK so do say hello if you see one.

Please feel free to post the flyer on your blog, or add it to facebook and tag lots of your friends. And of course, do sign up to the donor register if you haven't already :)