This week, marked the retirement of one of the most important people in my life – Professor Deirdre Kelly CBE – who was the consultant who led the team that saved my son’s life.
She set up the specialist paediatric liver unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 1989. Since then it has grown from just two beds to one of the busiest units in the world. The team she developed at the hospital pioneered the UK’s first ever infant liver transplantation in 1989. Over the last 30 years nearly 1000 liver transplants have been carried out at the hospital. Including the liver transplant that my son had in 2010.
At her retirement party on Zoom, past and present patients and families paid tribute to her inspiring career, and showed their gratitude for her life-saving and pioneering work. Her tenacity in building the pediatric liver transplantation program in this country was incredible, and she was revered by everyone who worked with her. She also had a huge capacity for compassion and cried with me when she told me that my son would need to have a liver transplant to have a chance of surviving.
Words of wisdom from Professor Kelly
Her parting words when we left the hospital after my son’s treatment were to remember ‘to enjoy your baby’. How true. How difficult. We were terrified about whether he would recover from the treatment. Would we manage the medication and ongoing hospital appointments with two young children? How would we come to terms with life with an immunosuppressed child?
But she was right. We tried to look for opportunities to do ‘normal things’ within our new limitations. We gradually processed the stress of what we’d been through. Now we navigate through the health blips more calmly. We are thankful for our organ donor and the skill of Professor Kelly’s team. I began a new career, supporting other parents who have children with additional needs, including parents who have children going through an organ transplant.
At the end of her retirement party, Professor Kelly had 2 final comments “enjoy your children and make sure they continue taking their medicines!”.
Two very sensible points, and the most important things that she wanted her parents to remember. And you absolutely don’t argue with Prof K – you just wouldn’t win!