My Place… Bettiscombe — Henry Smith

Henry Smith, in his garden at Bettiscombe
Henry Smith, in his garden at Bettiscombe

I am really West Dorset, born and bred. I was born at Stoke Abbott in 1942 and I am 72 now

I have never lived further than four miles from where I was born. It’s true that there aren’t many people able to say that these days

My family suffers from hereditary polycystic kidney disease — my father died when I was 18 months old from kidney problems, and my auntie died, and my cousin.

The family moved to Lower Monkwood Farm in 1950 and I went to Marshwood School.

Then Margaret and I moved here to Bettiscombe in 1994 when we sold the farm.

We were dairy farmers until 1976 with a herd of pedigree Friesians, then we changed over to beef and cereals.

We got rid of the farm when the girls left school mainly because I couldn’t do the work any longer.

In about 1984 or 85 I caught chicken pox from the girls, Eileen, Ann-Marie and Rosemary, and we think that probably set the ball rolling. I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 1985 and at the same time the kidneys started causing problems.

Then I went on dialysis and I had to go to Portsmouth, a 100-mile trip each way and in the end I was staying there all week, being dialysed three times a week and came home on Fridays in a taxi.

Then in February 1991, they said I needed to go to Harefield Hospital and have a double heart and kidney transplant, which I had on 4 March 1991.

One man had had that operation before at Harefield. It was a major step forward. I had a chance of taking that, or… I probably only had a fortnight.

The transplant’s been marvellous. It’s been 24 years

Our youngest and eldest daughters are living in New Zealand now and I’ve visited them four times. Our middle daughter is in Hinton St George and we have seven grandchildren altogether

Nearly 25 years ago, things were very grim indeed. My kidneys had totally failed and my heart was operating at about 20 per cent.

We are very pleased that we only moved two miles from the farm — we kept the same telephone number! We’ve got the garden and the greenhouse and we grow veg.

We’ve got a good network of friends. We love it here. We have always lived in the countryside. It is a lovely spot.

There’s such a variation in the countryside in West Dorset. Now you’ve got the coast, you’ve got the hills, you’ve got the valleys.

After the transplant we started organising charity village dances and on the 10th anniversary of the operation we changed to having a big ball at Freshwater in Burton Bradstock.

Over the 24 years we’ve raised £92,000 for Harefield Hospital, the Dorset Renal Unit and other charities.

Next year will be the 25th anniversary and we’ll see how things go after that.

The most remarkable thing we noticed after the transplant was that people I had known all my life, the first time they saw me after I had the transplant, they came up and shook my hand when they had never shaken hands with me before. It was as if the wanted to shake hands with me to prove that I was really still there!

What I would really like is for people to go on the register to be donors. We need more and more of them.

The best slogan I ever saw — in the waiting area at Harefield Hospital — was: “Don’t take your organs to heaven. God knows we need them here.”

The 2015 Henry Smith Charity Ball raised around £4,000

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