photo: Jasmine Stockman
Our Ballycastle house is abuzz today with good news. Our dear friend Lucia Quinney Mee across the cul-de-sac is the youngest recipient of one of the Queen’s New Year Honours for 2017. At just 18, Lucia is honoured with a British Empire Medal.
Lucia was away to the BBC at the crack of dawn, well actually way before the dawn, for radio and TV appearances. My daughter has even gotten her photo of Lucia (as featured on this blog!) across the local press and national websites and a look out the window at one stage today saw a TV camera crew taking different angles of Lucia’s house! Tonight… well tonight, Queen honoured or not, Lucia is praying for good tippers in the restaurant she works in part time!
So, what is one so young getting a British Empire Medal for. Well on the surface Lucia is a resilient young woman, in that she has had no less than three liver transplants. An auto-immune disease attacks her liver. We remember her first when was only eight years of age. Just over a year later and she had another.
Her third was in September 2015. We had watched her falling weaker by the day that summer. She lay on the sofa and was unable to do all the things she and her sister normally did with our girls. We prayed for another liver and thankfully it has been a successful transplant. Less than a year after her transplant she was winning medals again for swimming in the British Transplant Games and getting GCSEs.
That is all enough for Lucia to be respected as a special young woman… BUT... below the surface there is more. While lying on that sofa back in 2015 Lucia decided to start a campaign to promote organ donation. From her front room Lucia created a website and Facebook page to encourage people to have the conversation with their families about their wish to donate their organs.
Live Loudly Donate Proudly has been a powerful campaigning force that has not only raised awareness of organ donation but raised money for Organ Donation charities. On the first anniversary of her third liver transplant Lucia hosted a fundraising Gala Dinner of 300 plus people raising £8000 split between Transplant Sport and The Northern Ireland Transplant Association. Lucia spoke at the Gala with poise and maturity. Lucia has had many other opportunities across Ireland and the UK as well as the USA to share her story and her desire that we should all have the conversation.
I have had the privilege, at times a painful one, of watching Lucia from close enough quarters to weep many times, during transplants, when World Transplant Games medals have been won, during her speech at that Gala Dinner or when last night’s news broke of the British Empire Medal. What Lucia has always done is point me to are the donors.
Lucia has a special place in her heart for those who made tough decisions at tough times. Three such families, in the midst of sorrow and no doubt the tears of grief, have been the givers of life to Lucia.
I particularly loved a blog she wrote about the British Transplant Games, that summer after her third liver transplant. Lucia writes so well and she in that particular blog she articulated what went through her head as she raced to the finishing wall in the swimming pool. It was the donor families! She wanted to do her best for them. I just found that incredibly moving. That tangible gratitude might be one of Lucia’s very best qualities. There is that maturity again.
It was that blog, indeed those very lines, that inspired me to suggest that this year’s 4 Corners Festival Banquet should be for organ donor families and those who have received transplants. At past Festivals we have honoured the homeless, refugees, those living on Belfast peace walls and carers with banquets at Belfast City Hall. We are delighted to be concentrating on Organ Donation this February.
We are also thrilled that Lucia Mee will speak at that event. Also on the bill is author Cole Moreton whose book The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away has had organ donation very much in the public conversation this pat year. Cole will also be reading from the book at No Alibi’s Book Shop on Botanic Avenue the night after the banquet (February 7th at 6pm)
Organs don’t need sectarian boundaries and I wonder who in some corner of Belfast is living with an organ from someone in another corner!