"To look at her you wouldn't think she's 65... She looks wonderful." It's the kind of compliment any 65-year-old would be pleased to get but sadly Penny – the object of this flattering remark – wasn't in any position to enjoy it. Penny had been declared brain dead after a haemorrhage and the speaker was a transplant surgeon, beginning the process of dispersing her still viable organs to the people whose lives might be transformed by them. Transplant followed that extraordinary process, thanks to a further sacrifice by Penny's surviving family and the patients who were to receive her heart, liver and kidneys, all of whom had waived their right to privacy to allow the cameras in.
For Penny's husband and daughter the organ donation hadn't been a hard decision. "She always believed that organs are lent to you, in a strange sort of way, and if they could be used after death they had to be," he explained. Indeed, so determined was she that it should happen that she'd briefed her daughter to insist on the matter should her husband falter. In the event, it wasn't necessary. He knew she meant it and honoured her wishes. Perhaps their subsequent privacy donation also had something to do with that – a desire to show other bereaved families just how transforming the transplant programme can be.
Nobody would want Alex's liver, which had bloated to six times its healthy size and looked like something out of a mid-seventies Doctor Who episode. Even Alex was keen to get rid of it, and had travelled 200 miles to London's King's College Hospital in the hope that Penny's liver and one of her kidneys would restore a bit of quality to his life. It's an anxious time this; the quicker the organ is transplanted the better the prognosis is, so patients have to be prepped and in place before the surgeons can say for certain whether the match will work. Happily, in all three cases here, the teams got a green light – highly significant for Alex and Michael (also waiting for a kidney) but quite probably lifesaving for Zoe, a 16-year-old whose own heart was on the point of failing.
One should always shun cliché, but one that seemed permissible in these circumstances was the word "heartstopping", even if, as here, it was actually applied to the dangerous moment when a liver is switched back on in its new lodging, apparently a time when even experienced transplant surgeons cross their fingers. Again, happily, it went well – a lump of flesh that had been no more alive the hour before than the contents of a butcher's tray, miraculously flushing pink and getting back to the job it was designed for. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Penny's family to watch this film, if they did. But as her daughter wisely said: "We don't have memories of her heart or liver or kidney. We have memories of her." Transplant surely helped make them proud memories. "She has a good heart that woman," said the surgeon who took it out. He was talking purely in terms of cardiac function at the time, but it was true in every sense.
They have good hearts on The Great British Bake-Off too, that being the secret raising agent that has lifted the show so high in the ratings. They spend most of their time praising their competitors and usually have to be dragged blinking shyly into the spotlight when they do well themselves. Jo's remark, a little teary, was typical: "It's the first thing I've ever done for myself," she said, explaining that while her boys were her proudest achievement she would still feel just a little chuffed if she prevailed here. "I'm scared of winning really," said Mary-Anne after being asked to contemplate the thought of victory. "You'd be a winner then and everybody would be looking at you".
Holly, I'm afraid, cared just a little too much and practised just a little too hard to be perfect Bake-Off material. And although she was an obvious frontrunner to carry off the trophy, she choked in the final stretch. "Your frangipane's been lost," said Paul Hollywood, in one of the technical notes that Bake-Off fans live for. Even worse her Neapolitan ice-cream sponges "had no flavour". Mary-Anne also caved. It was anything but a default win for Jo, though: "superb" said Paul eating her first petit four; "it dances on your tongue" he said biting into the second; for the third, he just made a blissful "momf" noise. Hooray, and pass the Kleenex. I've got something in my eye.Reuse content