We always love to hear about the different jobs our young people go on to do. And as interesting workplaces go, Keith’s is a hard one to beat. As a researcher for Stewart Mc Donald MP, Keith, who is now 32, splits his time between the constituency office in Glasgow and the Houses of Parliament. Despite his busy life, CLDF remains close to his heart, to the extent that Stewart McDonald has even tabled an early day motion regarding Big Yellow Friday which you can see here : https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/60728. Here is Keith’s story.
I didn’t really think about my biliary atresia growing up. Yes, I did feel different from my peers, but in a good way.
People were always curious about my scar, which I used to tell them was a shark bite before admitting the truth – both stories fascinated people – and I never felt I was excluded from activities because of my condition, in fact, I helped organise most of them within my social circle.
I even managed to complete further education, moved and lived abroad for a period of time, and landed a dream job in politics in the House of Commons without letting my health get in the way.
My raison d’etre was clear – my liver disease was not going to stop me.
That mindset continued up to when I was told I needed to have a transplant. It’s funny, the things that I used to not bother about growing up suddenly became real as an adult.
I became self-conscious about my health pre and post-operation, how I’d look with a new scar, worried about returning to work, and feared my determination would wane.
Whilst there were challenging moments, I can now say a liver transplant not only saved my life, but it also changed it.
I never felt my liver condition impacted my day to day life until I became unwell enough to need a transplant. In hindsight, I probably should have limited my day to day activities but I was too determined (or stubborn) to let that stop me from living as normal a life as possible.
The impact my transplant has had on my life has been massive – in the best possible way. I always had to take medication prior to my operation, so that was not a difficult change, and I physically feel the best I ever had. From getting breathless running for a bus, to cycling nearly every day. From waking up feeling I’d never slept, to feeling as fresh as ever. From almost annual hospital admissions, to none in the nearly four years since, the transplant gave me a new life.
Even though I’ve been working there for nearly eight years now, when I look at the Palace of Westminster when crossing Westminster Bridge, I am still sometimes taken aback that it is my place of work – it is a pretty incredible sight. I was even fortunate enough to be nominated for a Parliament’s People Staffer of the Year Award in 2020. I think I’ve experienced more in those nearly eight years than most staff would in a lifetime in politics having worked there through two General Elections, the Brexit referendum, Covid19, Partygate, and five Prime Ministers. Whilst it does feel like a bit of a mad house sometimes, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything else.
Living with a long-term condition or a transplant may feel overwhelming, and it’s natural to worry that you could miss out on stuff your peers are doing. Know this – you can still do things and define new ways to make you happy, however grand or small it be. It’s what matters to you that counts.
People have often commented on how brave I have been. To me, I have just been living my life, and it was me that chose how I wanted to live that life.
I am incredibly grateful to be where I am but know I couldn’t have gotten to this point without a wonderful healthcare system, family, and friends, who I will never be able to thank enough.
Whether your support group is your health team, a charity, family, and/or friends – they will always want what is best for you, they are there for you, and they will do everything they can to ensure you are able to do what you want to do. Never be afraid to ask for help.
If you’re living with liver disease, have had a transplant, or supporting those in this position, know this – it may shape who you are, but it does not define you.
We are the ones who get to choose what matters and what we want to do with our lives, not our condition.