Lisa Perryman's partner Brett, 47, gave a kidney to save son Craig, 10
Craig was nine months old when we were told he had cancer,' says Lisa, 45. 'Our baby had arrived into this world with a minor urinary condition and a routine ultrasound revealed a tumour the size of an orange on one kidney.
'We were devastated, but Craig was being looked after at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) – we knew we couldn’t do any more for our son than ensure he was getting the best treatment.
'Chemotherapy shrank the tumour and then in December 2009, his kidney was removed. Craig was scanned every three months but got on brilliantly with one kidney. He’d bounce around with as much energy as any toddler and his older sisters (Laila, now 17, and Tegan, now 12) adored him.
'Then, when Craig was five, he fell ill again and a scan revealed the cancer had returned in his remaining kidney. The organ was removed and he went onto a dialysis machine to filter the blood.
'GOSH had pioneered a home-haemodialysis service and we were fortunate enough to receive one. It meant Craig’s routine wasn’t as disrupted but it still had a huge impact on his life. He was so tired, had to watch what he ate and was missing out on life.
'There was never any question that Brett or I wouldn’t donate a kidney if we were eligible because we knew a living donor transplant would give Craig the best chance.
'We had to wait two years while Craig’s immune system recovered from chemo, then Brett and I were tested. Unfortunately, I was not the same blood group as Craig, but Brett was a perfect match.
'We sat Craig down to tell him it was happening in December 2017. ‘You’re going to get my kidney for Christmas, what do I get?’ Brett asked playfully.
'Without hesitation Craig looked him in the eye and said, ‘Daddy, you get to save my life’. Brett was only angling for a hug! We all burst into tears. Craig worried about his dad having an operation, but we assured him everyone was going to be fine.
'Brett and Craig’s operations happened in different hospitals, so they FaceTimed each other and compared scars. As soon as Brett was well enough, he came over to GOSH so he could see our boy. Even though we spent Christmas in hospital, it was the best Christmas ever.
'Brett and Craig made an excellent recovery. Craig’s back at school full time, he loves swimming and trampolining and every Sunday he takes part in the Junior 2km ParkRun.
'He can eat what he likes and he’s growing fast. As for Brett, he’s not just surviving on one kidney, he’s thriving. 15 months after the operation, he ran the London Marathon and raised £6,000 for GOSH Charity.
'He said he felt lucky to be able to give Craig his kidney and I have never loved him more. Now Christmas is extra special, because we celebrate the ‘kidney-versary’, on the 19th then Christmas a few days later.
'Brett didn’t just give Craig a gift – he gave it to our whole family.’
Help families at GOSH with the gift of your support this Christmas. Make a donation and send a festive message to patients, families, and staff in GOSH Charity’s annual Stocking Appeal. Find out more at Gosh.org/stockingappeal
Marie Kaye's medical assistance dog Isla saved her life
'I was so exhausted I couldn’t get out of bed, I didn’t know what was wrong with me,' says Marie, 58, a teaching assistant from Huddersfield, who lives with partner Richard, 60.
'I put it down to work fatigue and hoped I’d feel better as soon as Richard, my son Bradley, 25, and I went on our summer holiday to Tenerife. But even in the sunshine, I didn’t have any energy. I was insatiably thirsty too.
'Back home, I realised I’d lost 2st on holiday. I’d gulp down pints of water but couldn’t quench my thirst. After tests, the GP diagnosed type one diabetes in August 2014, two months after symptoms began.
'Type one diabetes is a serious and lifelong condition that meant my body could not make the hormone insulin. I was given an orange to practise injecting insulin, but it took me an hour to work up the confidence to inject myself.
'I kept a diary of what I ate in the hope of understanding what affected my blood sugar levels. But what worked one day would not work the next.
'I’d successfully match the insulin required to balance my sugar levels one day, but the next day, I’d eat the same thing yet go into hypoglycaemia, a blood glucose crash that left me disorientated and dizzy. My legs trembled, I stumbled around in a daze. I lost confidence and didn’t dare venture out on my own.
'I saw something about Medical Detection Dogs on TV and thought they sounded brilliant. They train dogs to save lives using their amazing sense of smell. Bio Detection Dogs detect even the tiniest smells associated with diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and malaria but Medical Alert Assistance Dogs support people with complex health conditions like diabetes and severe allergies.
'I attended an open day, then started the application process. It took three years to complete my training and during every step, I felt more positive and hopeful. Meanwhile, I struggled on, never getting my diabetes under control.
'On Easter weekend 2018, I was invited to meet Isla, a black Labrador who had been trained to detect hypoglycemia in diabetics. Her handler brought her into the room and I burst into the happiest of tears.
'We were left alone to get to know each other and although she looked for her handler, she sat beside me and I smiled. I knew we were going to be friends.
'Back home, Isla was so good at reading me but it took me a while to read her. She’d been trained never to beg for food but one day while I was preparing dinner, she sat looking up at me. I thought she was asking for food.
'She refused to move. I decided I better check my sugar levels and sure enough, I was low. Isla wasn’t begging, she was trying to tell me I was low. Our bond developed and we started to move through life in perfect harmony.
'Isla follows me everywhere. She makes me feel safe and I’ll never be able to thank her for giving me back my freedom.
'She is a superhero – she has the power to alert me before I go into hypo. If it’s caught before my sugar levels get too low, I just need an apple. Before, I was always going so low I’d need something really sugary like cola.
'Thanks to Isla, I can make healthier choices and I no longer have to keep complex food diaries. Now, I just have a diary full of all the fun things Isla and I are going to do each day!’
Medical Detection Dogs receives no government funding and relies solely on the public’s generosity and goodwill from organisations such as the player’s of The People’s Postcode Lottery. To find out more visit Medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk
Widow Morag McFarlane, 88, thanks Iona Docherty, 37, for being her 'lifeline'
'My husband Bill died last September after a three-year battle with vascular dementia,' says Morag, who lives in Prestwick. 'He was 88 and deserved so much better.
'After he died, I felt so lonely. We had our sons, Alan, 65, and Graeme, 64, but although they visited often, I didn’t want to burden them. So many of my friends have already passed on, I had no one to turn to.
'One of Bill’s nurses suggested I contact the RAF Association’s befriender scheme. It has been 70 years since I served in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF).
'I loved it, but had to take compassionate discharge when my father died. Because I wasn’t in the Forces long, it never occurred to me that I could lean on their Befriender service now, but they assured me I qualified for support.
'Two months after Bill died, Iona arrived at my house, a bundle of warmth and smiles. We chatted effortlessly and after a while, Iona told me about herself. She blew me away.
'She had been through so much in her own life, but here she was volunteering to help me. I had never met anyone so generous, wonderful and kind.
'Soon, Iona was driving me all around town. We’d do errands, go shopping, to the theatre or out for lunch. Sometimes, we agree to disagree, we bounce off each other and we always make each other laugh. We meet about once a week and I can tell Iona anything and I know she’ll understand where I’m coming from.
'She says to me: ‘I’ll always be there for you Morag, always.’ I know she means it.
'I no longer feel like I’m bottling up my sadness around Bill’s death and I no longer feel lonely. Iona’s friendship has given me a boost. She’s more than a friend to me. She’s family.’
The Royal Air Forces Association is the charity that supports the wellbeing of the RAF family, including veterans, serving personnel and their dependants. The Association’s volunteer befrienders all take part in an accredited training course, which means you can be sure their advice and support will be what you’re looking for. For more information, call 0800 018 2361, email [email protected] or visit Rafa.org.uk