Thanksgiving service held at Ely Cathedral to honour region’s organ donors
Five years ago Michael Burt's health was deteriorating quickly, he only had a few months left to live and was in desperate need of a heart transplant.
But he was given a second chance at life thanks to an organ donation and became the first patient in the UK to undergo a beating heart transplant.
Today the 63-year-old joined more than 1,000 people to pack Ely Cathedral for a thanksgiving service to honour the memories of those who have died and donated their organs for transplant.
He said: 'I was going downhill fast and having a transplant was the only way of keeping me alive.
'The transplant had never been done in this country before and I was asked if I wanted to be a Guinea Pig and I said yes straight away and I'm glad I did.
'The transplant has given me the chance to spend more time with my children and grandchildren.
'I can't put into words what my grandchildren mean to me and I am so grateful that I've been able to watch them grow up because of the kindness of others.
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'People say make the most of everyday and believe me you have to because you don't know what is round the next corner.'
The father-of-four underwent the operation at Papworth Hospital near Cambridge in May 2006 and returned home three weeks later.
The retired builder continued: 'I am still so grateful to the surgeons and the team at Papworth. They were brilliant, I cannot praise them enough.
'I am also grateful to the donor family and wish them all the best and hope that they have come to terms with their sad loss. I am so grateful I have got the heart but I know it meant someone else had been bereaved.'
The life-changing operation, which had only been performed twice before in Germany, relied on the heart being kept warm and beating outside the body prior to transplant.
Before, moved organs have had to be placed on ice and transferred to the recipient within four to six hours, risking deterioration.
Mr Burt continued: 'I think there are a lot of people who would like to sign up to be a donor but to do so would mean imagining themselves dying one day and I think that puts people off.
'All I would say to these people is what you would be doing is a wonderful thing and give people who need an organ transplant the chance to have a longer life.'
He added: 'This service is a great way for people like me to say thanks to those who have donated their organs.
'It really is a celebration of life – the life people like myself have been given thanks to those who have decided to give us that chance.
'It is a very humbling feeling to know someone made the decision to help keep me alive by donating an organ.'
Brave little Georgie, Ashleigh and Serena Boast and their mum Louise were also invited to today's thanksgiving service.
It is just over a year since their father Mark, 29, suffered serious head injuries in a road crash and died in hospital the following day.
However, the motorcyclist helped save the lives of five people and gave eyesight to a baby because he was on the organ donor register when he died.
His wife Louise, 31, said: 'That's the type of person he was. I don't know why he decided to become a donor but he would do anything for anyone.
'All the five people who are still alive thanks to him are from the same age group 18 to 30 as he was.
'His lung and his two kidneys saved three lives and his liver was cut in half to save two people and then a little part of his eye was used for the baby.'
She said he was a 'proper family man' who loved his three girls Georgie, 10, Ashleigh, eight, and Serena, five.
Mrs Boast, from Chapelfield, Freethorpe, near Acle, continued: 'It will be nice to meet some of the other families who have lost a loved one and remember Mark for being the great person he was and for donating his organs.
'It has been a really hard year for us all and it's going to be hard for a while because things like this are not easy.
'But we are slightly comforted by the fact members from both our families have all signed the donor list and so have their friends.
'Our three girls are now on the list and it is fantastic that Mark has inspired so many people to sign up.
'We've been told the people to recieve Mark's organs are doing really well and although it doesn't bring Mark back it's a nice feeling that he has helped so many people.'
Georgie added: 'I decided to join because I want to help someone else stay alive just like daddy. I am really proud of my dad.'
Peter Stokes was already on the organ donor register when his wife Gill died after a brain haemorrhage in 2007.
Now the 71-year-old is urging others to sign up today because you 'never know what's around the corner'.
Mr Stokes, from Weybread, near Diss, said: 'We were enjoying our retirement, she was in the peak of health and we were celebrating the birth of our first grandchild.
'But after we returned home one day, she collapsed and died later in hospital. It is a shock when someone you have been married to for 40 years passes away and it came out of the blue.
'However we had agreed about 10 years before her death to sign up to list so after she died whatever organs could be used were taken.
'Her kidneys, heart valve and liver were all used. One of the kidneys went to a guy who had been on the waiting list for years but he is now back to work and has been enjoying life for almost four years.
'So my message to people is please sign up. You don't know what is round the corner and if your organs might help save a life. It is also a very satisfying thing to do.
'Also I would urge people to think about if they ever needed an organ, I am sure they would hope there would be one there for them so why not sign up to do the same for others?'
He added: 'It's a pleasure to come to this service. I am pleased she is still living on in other people and that gives myself and our family much comfort.'
The thanksgiving service brought together families of deceased donors from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, as well as patients who received transplants at Addenbrooke's and Papworth hospitals.
It was the seventh service of its kind in the region over the past 14 years.
Sue Falvey, from NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), helped organise the first event while working as a transplant co-ordinator at Addenbrooke's and Papworth hospitals.
She said: 'Although the day was emotional for many, we hope that people found it inspirational and uplifting.
'I hope it also reminded people that the gift given by donors at the end of their lives is not forgotten or taken for granted.
'It was a tremendous event which gave anyone affected by donation and transplantation in this region the chance to come and pay their respects and show their gratitude.'