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Durham First

Notes from the Chancellor

Bill Bryson

I have a young friend named Oli Lewington, from Milton Keynes, who until quite recently carried with him everywhere a mobile phone that was intended only ever to be used once: to receive a call from the transplant unit at Harefield Hospital in Cambridge telling him to come immediately because they had a new heart and lungs for him.

Oli has cystic fibrosis and without a double transplant the chances of his surviving more than two years were no better than 50/50. Eight thousand people in Britain are in similar straits to Oli, and nearly 500 of them die every year because replacement organs can’t be found for them in time.

I mentioned this terrible, sad fact to some Durham students on one of my visits, and the next thing I knew they had come up with the heroic, clever, delightfully spirited My Friend Oli campaign, which was designed to make students aware of the plight of people like Oli and to help them to become “A Friend for Life” by signing on to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Thanks to the inspired and tireless efforts of Durham student Hannah “Pops” Barham (whose brother had a successful heart transplant in 2006) and many others the campaign has been a heartwarming success. We’ve no way of knowing exactly how many students have registered, but we like to think that Durham is now the most signed-up university in the UK. It is certainly the most visibly supportive.

Since the campaign's launch I have been amazed at the number of Durham people I've met who have been personally touched by transplant issues, among them a recent young grad who had a kidney transplant 10 years ago but now needs another, and a current student whose father underwent a liver transplant in December. Both told me how heartened they and their families were by our campaign.

I am truly delighted also to report that Oli got his phone call just before Christmas and was rushed to Harefield, where he was given a new heart and lungs in a ten-hour operation. He is now doing fine and plans to come to Durham to help us inaugurate the second phase of the campaign.

And it would be hard to think of a happier way to end my seasonal report to you than that. For all who took part, a million thanks.

Warm wishes and heartfelt thanks

Bill Bryson - Chancellor