A man who received a life-saving transplant from a teenager has described his emotional first meeting with the boy’s parents.
Martin Strang, 47, was born with a congenital heart and spinal condition and later suffered complete kidney failure.
He had been on dialysis for four years when stranger Toby Hart, 16, tragically died after plunging from a cliff during a family holiday to Cornwall.
The teenager’s parents honoured his wish to gift organs, and his heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas were all donated.
Martin, who received Toby’s kidney and pancreas, has now become close friends with Toby’s parents Sally and Graham after meeting them for the first time.
Team GB transplant archery champion Martin said: “I was so nervous I sat in the car for about 15 minutes beforehand, wearing my Team GB kit, thinking ‘what do I look like? Are they going to like me?
“But Sally, Toby’s mum, put her arms around me and hugged me for about ten minutes. It was a very emotional meeting.
“Now we keep in touch all the time via text and facebook messages. Sally says ‘We’re family now,’ which is lovely.”
Knitting shop worker Sally, 53, added: “Ever since Toby donated, I’d been really keen to know how the people who received his organs were.
“What I love about Martin is that he has done so many things since having the donation.
“I always think of it as Toby and Martin doing them together which is just lovely.
“It’s not just that Toby is living on through other people, it’s that Martin has made the most of what he has been given.
“Toby dying wasn’t a waste. That’s what’s really important.”
Toby, of Warrington, fell 60ft to his death at Cadgworth Cove on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula in July 2012.
The tragedy came in July 2012 just five days before his 17th birthday.
Toby, who was on holiday with his parents and younger brother Stephen, had decided to become an organ donor two years earlier.
His family decided to discuss the subject following the death of his grandmother.
Sally explained: “When he applied for his provisional driving licence he ticked all the boxes for organ donation and it was a huge help when he died.
“We didn’t even have to think about it. At the hospital we were able to say ‘you don’t even have to ask because we want him to be an organ donor’.
“There were lots of decisions we had to make – including what colour coffin we wanted – but this was the easiest one.”
Martin was born with several serious medical conditions and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a toddler.
This resulted in him suffering kidney failure, leaving him reliant on dialysis to survive.
Insurance broker Martin says he didn’t have a sporting bone in his body before receiving Toby’s kidney.
But he decided to immediately take up a new hobby.
Martin, of Falkirk, Scotland, explained: “I wanted to do something to honour Toby and celebrate getting my life back and just fancied archery as it’s such an inclusive sport.”
By 2017 he had become so proficient that he has taken home medals at British, European and World Transplant Games.
He had also been put into contact with Sally and Graham through leading transplant charity the Donor Family Network In May this year Martin was making a trip down from Scotland to a Team GB when Toby’s parents asked him to meet on the spur of the moment.
He pulled off the motorway and met them at hotel near their home for a coffee.
During the meeting Martin discovered that he shared many interests with his donor, including motorbikes and archery.
He said: “We’ve discovered all sorts of uncanny similarities. My first holiday after the transplant was to Lake Garda– a place where Toby had holidayed.
“Soon after the transplant, I bought a motorbike – unaware that Toby had bought a moped just before he died.
“And when I asked: “Out of interest, did Toby ever do archery?” they both looked at each other and said he’d done a course as a child. I thought ‘this is just crazy’.
“To get a gift like this is amazing. But to have so many coincidences with your donor is even more amazing.”
Martin wears an archery armguard bearing Toby’s name, while his quiver belt is inscribed with the words: “For the needs of the many – in honour of Toby.”
He met Sally and Graham again at the Donor Family Network annual service memorial service at the National Arboretum, at Alrewas, in September.
Martin added: “Over the summer I visited Toby’s grave, placed my leather arm guard there for him to watch over and spent half an hour talking to Toby thanking him for what he has done for me.
“I’ve told the family ‘it’s Toby doing this – not me. Every time I pick a bow up I’m thinking of him.
“I’m getting word out there to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation and encourage people to tell their families about their wishes.”
Nigel Burton runs the Donor Family Network, a charity which helped bring Martin and Toby’s parents together.
He said: “When recipients and donor families meet it’s a very emotional time and it can be hard for both sides.
“It brings back the sense of loss and recipients can feel survivor guilt.
“But in certain circumstances these meetings work very well.
“In the UK we don’t like talking about mortality but it’s so important.
“We need people to have the conversation about organ donation with their families.”
From spring 2020 all adults in England will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs unless they specifically opt out.
The new organ donation law – Max and Keira’s Law – was passed following a Mirror campaign.
For information on organ donation and making your wishes known click here and here
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