Woven through life like a beautiful thread, a firm friendship surmounts bad dress sense and stubborn behaviour. Tim remembers his best friend Martin, an original thinker, a bad dresser, and an argumentative sort who would be turning 60 this year.
by Tim Canham
Martin Briggs was my friend.
He was a brilliant husband and Dad, an outstanding clinician, and an original thinker. He had absolutely the worst taste in clothes and was stubborn and argumentative. I loved him dearly.
Martin inherited Marfan syndrome. It is a disorder of the body’s connective tissue that leads to medical problems affecting the heart, eyes, and skeleton. He was only 46 when it took him from us.
This syndrome affected his life and had an impact upon his family. It also took his Dad and his sister Geraldine.
I travelled with Martin and his wonderful family and witnessed how he – and they - faced this disease with courage, stoicism and, occasionally, anger. But there was always optimism, faith, and humour as well.
Despite his illness, he had a huge appetite for life. He loved to travel, was quite partial to beer and, most important of all, he had a genuine interest in people.
I had been planning to mark Martin's life and struggle with Marfan for many years.
Martin and I would be 60 this year.
The London Marathon would be the vehicle that I hoped to mark and celebrate his life. Here's my JustGiving Page.
Martin and I are part of a group of friends who trace their friendship back to being aged 11 at St Ignatius, a North London comprehensive run by the Jesuits.
Actually, Martin was quite a 'young' friend - I knew his wife Geraldine since five! Along with another amazing group collectively known as the 'Boys'. Still my friends today.
We all grew up together, went to school, shared holidays, adventures. Got married, had kids. And amazingly stayed in touch. But more than in touch, A very close group.
During this time, we and I became more aware of Marfan. How it had taken his Dad, Sister, the threat that the disease brought to his life.
As possibly the brightest of our group, and this included some really clever friends that made Oxbridge from such a modest place, Martin started into his career as a doctor.
As a junior medic he worked the brutal 'all hours' weekends. We didn't see him almost for months.
It was during this time we became so much more aware of the jeopardy Marfan cast over him. The worry and anxiety, the monitoring, the restrictions upon his life.
Then he had the aortic dissection.
With amazing skill his clinical colleagues saved his life, but the damage to his heart was done.
Thus began his struggle for the next stage of his life.
My friendship deepened with him during this time. As he faced yet another incredibly risky operation, we talked about how he was facing these procedures. These conversations were so hard, but honest, direct and raw. About death, and purpose. And they affirmed our love and affection for each other.
During this time his heart failure worsened and became critical, and a heart transplant was the only way to save my friend.
With extraordinary fortune a donor heart became available.
I recall with absolute clarity a conversation with Martin in hospital, probably Brompton.
As his friend and a non-clinician, I asked about the riskiness of the operation. Typically, he looked me in the eye and said, 'this operation is pretty straightforward these days, risks are much lower than some of the other ops..!' And he told me at another chat that he would rather have heart surgery than visit the dentist!
All through these times he was a tough friend, calling me to order, telling me to do the right thing.
His wonderful daughters thrived, grew up, went to university. Martin shortened the odds for them with his insightful preparation for the tough interview processes. He was astute, clever, strategic.
And all through these tough years he carried on contributing to the NHS and to Marfan.
We bought a boat, sold the boat (don't mix defibrillator/pacemaker with open water apparently!) ,and he bought a place in Spain.
After a wonderful new lease of life the donor heart brought, he died from complications.
We were all devastated.
He was a wonderful man.
My plod around London was about offering something to mark his life, make a contribution to the ongoing battle with the syndrome. And raise some money to assist the research and support.
London was life affirming. And as I encountered some dark moments, wanted to give up, I asked Martin to help.
I finished. So, he held up his end of the plea!
And I know my friend would have been there to get the first pint in at the end. And to question my sanity, but to always be my friend.
I wanted to raise as much as possible for the Marfan Trust. This is the only UK charity that focuses on all aspects of fighting this syndrome and supporting patients and their families.
Martin would think that spending time running a long way was bonkers.
We would have argued, over a pint of course, but in the end, we would have agreed that although the running part was mad, helping to support sufferers while raising public awareness was ‘a good thing’.
[Tim after crossing the finishing line!]