The gift of life: Hello I’m Tom. It was 18 November 1988 when my story began – I was rushed to hospital by ambulance and, following extensive testing and examination, my parents were told to prepare for the worst.
They started the day as parents of two healthy, happy, young children: myself, Tom, two and a half years old, and my big sister, Gemma, three years my senior. There was a very real risk that, by the end of the week, my parents could be left with one child.
I don’t remember this time, as I was only two and a half, but I am told that my condition was so severe that TPN, although very much in its infancy, was the only option left. One doctor took a risk when others considered it not worthwhile, and removed almost all my small bowel due to the presence of mesenteric cysts cutting off the blood supply, effectively rendering my small intestine dead.
After months in hospital, and my mom pretty much moving into the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, it was anything but plain sailing, but looking back now it was most definitely worth the effort.
Thirty-three years later, I consider myself one of the first guinea pigs for TPN and think how grateful I am that the surgeon took a risk when others weren’t prepared to. He has since attended my wedding (as a guest of honour, in my eyes at least) and I send him annual updates on how I am progressing with life and to show my gratitude for what he did and how I will be forever in his debt.
Growing up, Mom and Dad never had a night off together because they were responsible for administering my TPN. They made a constant effort (as I do to this day) to not let my condition hold me back from anything I wanted to do. We would go on an annual camping trip to Guernsey (Dad driving the car and everyone else flying, as I had so much equipment to take), and school trips to France and Devon where Mom or Dad would come along as an extra member of staff to administer my TPN every night – weird for the other kids but all fairly normal for me.
As I have aged, I have gone on to live a very normal life (if there is such a thing), but with a very unique view on the world – I fully appreciate I am one of the lucky ones to still be here today and, if you are aware that you are only alive due to TPN and the actions of one surgeon, you tend to appreciate things a lot more and try not to worry about the smaller things in life (although sometimes this is easier said than done).
I now have a family of my own, with a loving wife and a young son, Freddie, as well as expecting the imminent arrival of our second child any day now – by the time you read this he/she should have arrived.
I have travelled the world with TPN and done things that I wouldn’t have considered imaginable if someone would have told me twenty years ago. I have snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, cage dived with sharks in South Africa and been to Las Vegas more times than I care (or want) to remember – I write this not through hubris but more to illustrate that if I can do it as a human guinea pig, dependant on TPN to sustain life for the past thirty-three years, so can anyone else who is considering their first adventure or moving away from home for the first time.
I genuinely cannot wait to see what the next ten years of life has in store – if the last ten are anything to go by it’s going be one hell of a ride, but this time I will do it alongside a loving wife, an adorable son, an imminent baby and a crazy springer spaniel.