Friday 23 August 1996
Joanne is obviously a nice kid, full of joie de vivre. She attends the same school as her sister, reads fluently, cheeks her teachers and though petrified of horses, is determined to learn to like them. "She's a right little pain in the bum," says her mother. "She's just like any other teenager. That's our Jo, and we all love her. Just look at her. She loves life. I mean, basically, my Joanne's dying." She will be in a wheelchair within four years because the hole in the heart she was born with was never operated on and has diseased her lungs.
One actually felt sorry for everyone involved: Jo, her parents and the doctors. It would have been easy to take the cop-out of yanking the heartstrings, but Jill Fullerton-Smith's film was a more sophisticated product than that, attempting to show the dilemmas facing the medical profession. Dr Rosemary Radley Smith of Harefield Hospital, who has to allocate the organs, was obviously a dedicated woman in a no-win situation. "Harefield does about 140 transplants a year," she said "and we've actually got about 300 people on our waiting list. A lot of those people are not going to get their transplant... there are not enough organs to go around." She effectively presides over a lottery of life. Not an enviable position.
And yet. The look on Marion Harris's face as her hopes were dashed once again was enough to make you rail against the fates. A Down's woman in America, Sandra Jenson, has had the same operation, after a campaign by her family and friends, and Marion visited her. She interviewed Sandra's boss, whose legal intervention had swung her case. "They said she couldn't have the operation on the grounds that she wouldn't be able to look after herself after the operation, and that she didn't understand the implications of the operation. Stupid. Stupid. The same thing would apply to a five- day-old baby."
He somewhat undermined his own position, however, by referring to "a quarter-of-a-million dollar set of organs", as though they were something turned out by factories. No one seemed to want to face the fact that a new heart is actually someone's dead son or daughter, brother or sister. Life is very tough, but the lack of available organs isn't just a question of budgeting. And someone, somewhere, has to choose who gets these car-crash by-products, however much pain that decision will cause.
A few happier moments at the RSPCA's wildlife hospital in Somerset in Back to the Wild (BBC1). This series has cleverly tapped into a market which doesn't necessarily cross over with the usual nature documentary demographic, by employing Patrick Robinson to present. Robinson, a man of breathtaking beauty, has been boosting the ratings of Casualty for some time in the role of the stroppy but morally faultless Ash, and his chat-to-camera each week is a significant carrot for anyone normally tempted by The Bill. It's probably a good thing that he's not a permanent member of RSPCA staff: there could well be a surge in wounded hedgehogs.
The good news was that a large number of the birds caught up in last week's oil-spill have survived. Releasing a Great Northern Diver onto the sea, wildlife assistant, Paul Kennedy, opined that this was "everything you're working towards". Last week's foxes, badgers and barn owl were also well on the road to recovery. Less fortunate were a blind fox cub, a dog-otter and a little owl, all of whom met their maker to the strains of a muted violin.
We are a strange lot. Joanne merited music only at the end of her story, while every humane injection was given its own soundtrack.
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