AFTER 20 long months of staring death in the face, Antrim man Mark Smyth is finally allowing himself to dream of the future.
His liver had been destroyed by a deadly cocktail of booze and prescription medicine and without a transplant he knew that this was a fight he could not win.
And that battle appeared to be moving into its final stages three weeks ago when he became gravely ill and was rushed to Antrim Hospital. Staff there were unable to stabilise him so he was taken to the Royal Victoria and then on to King’s College Hospital in London for specialist care.
The local man was in a critical condition, but medics managed to bring him back from the brink - but it was clear that this latest set-back had taken its toll. Time was not on their side.
But out of immediate danger plans were under way to fly him back to Northern Ireland when he finally got the call he had been waiting for.
There was a liver. A family were saying their goodbyes to a loved one, but they wanted to honour their wishes and offer the organs for transplant after life support was switched off.
Though there was regret that someone had to die to offer him a second chance, Mark had to share the news, ringing brother Darran at 4.30am to tell him that there had been a sudden change of plan.
He went under the knife later that day and it proved to be anything but routine. The surgeons worked for 12 and a half hours to keep their patient alive. His kidneys had started to fail, he had bled profusely and there was 10 stone of fluid to contend with.
Heavily sedated, Mark was taken to Intensive Care and given dialysis.
His mum Shirley said he was in a ‘sorry state’ when they got to his bedside - but he had lived to fight another day.
He is expected back in Northern Ireland later this week and will stay in the Royal for at least a fortnight.
He is getting stronger by the day. He is, said Shirley, ‘like a new man’.
“Thank God, he’s on the mend. It will be fantastic to get him home again.
“Our lives have all been on hold for the last 20 months but now he has been given a second chance. It’s a miracle. It really is.
“There were times when he was really low and in a lot of pain when I couldn’t imagine there being a happy ending to this.
“The support we have received has been phenomenal. People we didn’t even know have approached us to say that they were praying for us.
“I couldn’t pray for Mark to get a new liver, though, because for that to happen someone else had to die.”
After the initial elation, Shirley admits that she has been thinking a lot about the benevolent stranger who has given an extraordinary gift to her boy.
“You do think about that family and what they are all going through. We can never thank them enough for what they have done.
“It’s overwhelming really, to consider that in their darkest hour they still thought about others.
“Mark was really ill. He could not have been more sick - but we’ve got him back because someone, somewhere decided to become a donor.
“Through their death, they are giving life to another. It’s a wonderful thing to do - to save another family from going through the heartbreak of loss.
“We are so lucky. So blessed. So grateful.”
*Look out for a full interview with Mark in a forthcoming edition of the Antrim Guardian.