“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is a cliché phrase intended to encourage strength and perseverance. It takes on a different meaning for those facing chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
Faced with years of medical teams, procedures, specialized treatments, side effects, and daily maintenance restrictions, enduring serious illness can become a daunting chore. Especially if the sufferer is a child.
It’s hard to imagine the plight of a truly sick child. Barely starting out in the world yet already facing their mortality, children with serious illnesses serve as a reminder that life can be incredibly unfair.
In 2007, 13-year-old Hannah Jones of New Quay, Wales, UK, made history and headlines when she won the “right to die” in court. The young teen had spent extensive time being treated for Leukemia and heart disease.
We all have our breaking point, and after eight years, she’d had enough. She didn’t want any more treatments, but the hospital tried to have her removed from her parents’ custody to force a life-saving heart transplant.
With the freedom of self-autonomy, Hannah began to think. Not long after turning 14, motivated by the excitement of prom and completing high school, she changed her mind.
“I wanted the big dress, the tiara. I wanted the hair and the make-up,” Jones explained. “I wanted to finish off my high school life… I wanted to finish it off properly and experience it with all my friends.”
As Jones chose life, her match, a 40-year-old Scottish motorcyclist, lost his. Instead of heading off to vacation, surgeon Dr. Victor Tsang stayed back to perform the transplant procedure.
Jones’ transplant was a success. With a few daily medications and adherence to behavioral restrictions (no alcohol) she leads a normal life.
Jones is now 22 and has graduated from Aberystwyth University with excellent marks. She is preparing to go into teaching.
Despite ultimately changing her mind and choosing life, Jones believes that it was important to advocate for her rights at the time. She said she wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“I was exhausted by the drugs and the pressure I was under and I don’t regret my decision. It was right for me to challenge the doctors at the time…
“If I had chosen to have the transplant earlier, then I might not be in the position I’m in now.” As mindset is so important to successful treatment and recovery from illness, she may be right.
On Feb. 19, BBC News welcomed Jones on-air for an interview, checking in on her landmark case and dramatic mind-changing twist. The news outlet organized a reunion between Jones and Dr. Tsang.
The pair had not seen each since just after the surgery. Both parties were initially speechless to see one another.
Jones expressed her gratitude while Tsang insisted that it was Jones that chose life. “You changed your mind, and with that choice you changed your life,” Dr. Tsang said.
Later, in reference to her successful recovery and the fulfilling life she’s led since, he remarked, “what more does a heart surgeon want?” More than surviving, Jones thrived.
Battling sickness, from the common cold to the most vicious cancers, is never easy. It’s natural to want to give up.
Given the advantages of space and time, we have the opportunity to realize what is lost when we throw in the towel. With the majority of her life revolving around hospitals and invasive treatments, it’s understandable that young Jones would fight instead for the right to stop fighting.
What Jones was able to realize before it was too late is that when you give up, the only one missing out is yourself. While the fight may be a steep uphill climb, life is worth living.
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