Giving the gift of life

KAYLEIGH HARRIS

Kayleigh and Liana met in the kids ward at the local hospital.  They were roughly the same age and their relationship grew from that day.

Kayleigh applied for various rep/courier jobs abroad and was accepted as a courier for Eurocamp on the Western Mediterranean in France. She began as a courier, cleaning caravans and welcoming holiday makers.  During her first season she was promoted to Area Administrator for the whole Western Med team!

Over every summer season it became her favourite place in the world where she met some lifelong friends.  Although her job was now Area Admin, she also helped out with repping at the kids’ club (her ultimate passion), assisting with bar work, helping her friends with waitressing in their restaurant and putting together performances in the shows for the evening entertainment.  Her five-minute slot on stage morphed into an hour and a half show written, produced, choreographed, costume designed and starred by my amazing daughter.  She even learned to speak fluent French within two seasons, along with a little German and Dutch.  So now Kayleigh was always used as the translator for customers, hospital trips and even the police as a witness!  Most of us work to live; Kayleigh lived for her work.

Kayleigh was bored throughout the winter at home in the UK so she applied for a winter season job, working behind a bar for the holiday company TUI at a hotel was in the French Alps.  She got the job!  She couldn't ski and so found a love for snowboarding, although she was always falling over.  I have recordings of her falling, laughing and on stage in the Alps; my favourite recording was of her, late one night in bed, singing "You're never fully dressed without a smile". 

Season two in the Alps was another promotion for Kayleigh; she was now in charge of (mainly British) school trips. She would welcome them at the airport, arrange their whole week of entertainment and then see them off at the airport. She loved this job too.

By now I only ever saw Kayleigh at home in the UK twice a year, at the end/beginning of her seasonal jobs. Her first visit would always be to Liana and Liana's family.  She called Liana's mum "Super Mum"!  They had nicknames for each other and loved anything silly, making light of everything.  There is a recording of Kayleigh and Liana in the car, singing and laughing together.  

Liana always had to watch her diet, take tablets, have injections, go to her dialysis a few times a week for hours and felt terrible most of the time.  Kayleigh would always go with her and take lunch and games.  She learned all about the other patients and befriended the staff, along with Liana.  When Kayleigh was abroad, she would send gifts and cards back to Liana, and Liana would do the same.  They were absolute best friends. 

Since meeting Liana, Kayleigh's passion for organ donation grew and grew.  She would talk to anyone and everyone who wanted to listen - even those that didn't; she had a few heated discussions with some people over the years concerning organ donation.  She didn't care; it was Kayleigh's way and that was that.

When Liana had her call for a new kidney, she was absolutely ecstatic - although with a little sadness for the donor. She phoned me and was like Tigger bouncing around with her words!  Kayleigh then phoned me and was the same as Liana; they were both so happy.  It may have given Liana only one more year of life, but she lived it to the full and made the most of every moment.  

On one of Kayleigh's visits home, she got a tattoo on the inside of her arm to mark the importance of Liana's transplant.  It was a kidney with a moustache with Liana's name inscribed.

Kayleigh was given compassionate leave from France when Liana was put on a life support machine.  She went straight to the hospital and spent her time at her friend's bedside.  She was truly devastated when Liana died, as we all were.  I don't think Kayleigh ever actually got over it. She also kept in contact with Di, Liana's mum, and would visit her when she came home.  She was just too sad at losing her friend.

The only other time I would see Kayleigh was for her birthday, 5th May.  My partner, Anita, and I are both nurses and we would go and spend a week with Kayleigh on the Western Med and celebrate with her and her adopted extended family.  On one of her birthdays we went to her birthday meal and booked a table for 38 people!  I have many amazing photos of these brilliant times in France, with different costumes and fancy dress outfits on. 

On Kayleigh's last visit home, in November 2015, she said she was doing her last winter season in the Alps and then one more summer season on the Western Med.  Then she planned to go to Australia for a few months to work before coming home to apply to the Military as a medic.  

Kayleigh was due home only a couple of days after her accident.  My partner and I had docked into Cozumel, Mexico, at 0530 that day; we were on a two-week Caribbean cruise.  At 0600 I received the dreaded call from Kayleigh's area manager - she had had a skiing accident and had been air lifted to hospital; the doctors needed me there ASAP.

I knew she had had an accident because she sent me a message the day before, saying that she had fallen but somebody had skied into her head, written off her helmet and slashed her goggles.  That was to be the last ever message from my beautiful daughter.  My phone signal was bad as I was in the middle of the sea, but I managed to send a message back, asking if she was okay.

After 48 hours of agonising travelling, I got to the hospital in Grenoble to spend the last few hours with Kayleigh on a life support machine, until they wheeled her away.  I have photos of my five daughters together for the last time in that room. 

The French doctors asked me if I would consider her to be an organ donor.  Kayleigh had already decided; there was no way she wasn't going to be a donor (she was even wearing her Live Life Give Life t-shirt when she had her accident!).  This has been the most horrific, traumatising, heartbreaking time in my and my family's life - but I know Kayleigh would be smiling at the thought of saving three people's lives with her organs. 

We both found it unbelievable that there isn't an opt out system.  Everyone should automatically be a donor unless they choose to opt out.  I believe you should ask yourself: "If my family needed a life-saving organ, would I be grateful for the opportunity of saving their life by using a donor?"  Although it was an obvious and easy decision for me, it is only now that a couple of months have passed that I can fully register and feel more than happy about my decision. Only later can you fully appreciate what my amazing gorgeous girl has done for others.  It's completely selfless and life changing; it's the gift of life.

One of Kayleigh's seasonal friends from the Alps got a tattoo recently to remember Kayleigh.  It's the same kidney that she had on her arm, with a picture of a kitten with a pink bow. It says: "Live life give life, hello kidney". 

Kayleigh was cremated.  Her funeral day was a Kayleigh day.  Everybody, including people from all over the world, came in her favourite colour: pink.  Most people were in fancy dress in her honour.  There was a sea of pink flamingoes, men with tutus and tights, onesies and so much more.  Her pink coffin was carried by her two favourite uncles (both Military), her two dads and her two best male friends.  Her after-party, "The celebration of Kayleigh's life", was in a hotel.  The hotel owner closed the hotel to the public for the night; all rooms were taken, in addition to all hotels in the surrounding area.  The field around his lake was filled with tents and a sea of pink. 

It is now almost four months since that dreaded day and I still receive regular messages from her "family" abroad; some I haven't even met.  I have messages from parents of kids who she looked after in the kids’ clubs, telling me that their children have refused to go to kids club this year because they just want Kayleigh.  I've also had a letter from the managing director of the holiday company, TUI, telling me that he has had so many compliments about Kayleigh over the years and always positive feedback, personally naming her.

I would like to believe that Kayleigh and Liana are together causing havoc.  I'm not really at that stage yet, but I hope I will get there.