Stephanie Marks was only 17 when she died in June 2002. She was a bright, loving, vivacious girl who wanted to be a doctor. She had everything to live for and a brilliant future to look forward to, but complications from Type 1 diabetes killed her. I never met Stephanie but after attending the opening of the treatment centre set up in her memory, I wish I had.
It was an emotional occasion especially for Stephanie’s family who though burdened by grief, were determined that no-one should ever have to suffer what they’ve been through. With the support of friends and the local community, they launched an appeal dedicated to her memory with the awesome task of raising £1m to build a facility to help diabetes sufferers better manage their condition. The task was anything but easy however seven years and many sleepless nights later, the Stephanie Marks Diabetes Resource Centre was officially opened for business at St Peter’s Hospital Chertsey, by the former cricketer and appeal patron Sir Ian Botham.
My first impression when I stepped inside the glass fronted two storey building for the guided tour, was that it didn’tlook or feel like a clinic. Maybe that’s deliberate as there’s nothing more likely to make a sick person feel worse than entering a place that’s cold, grey and unwelcoming. An atmosphere of freshness pervades every corridor and landing, heightened by the lilac upholstered furniture (lilac was Stephanie’s favourite colour), painted white walls, and the contemporary sleekness of the consulting rooms. There’s a careful, considered thoroughness to every detail, culminating in a structured balance between medical functionalism and simple, human warmth. The staff will have plenty to keep them occupied since diabetes is a condition that’s worryingly on the up and just as alarmingly, is being diagnosed in an increasingly large number of young people. Never has the need for such a facility been more urgent.
As we drove away and headed for home, I couldn’t help reflecting on the unfairness of it all. How is it possible that someone so young could be taken away before they’ve even had the chance to scratch life’s surface? It’s a question that my husband often asks about his youngest daughter Lisa, who died at the age of 25 in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The pain from that tragedy will never go away although with every year that passes, it does get slightly easier to handle. Setting up the foundation that bears her name has been an important step in the healing process.
Lisa had an insatiable curiosity about the world along with a strong desire to travel, and it’s fitting that her charity should reflect this. Its provided invaluable assistance to many victims of natural disasters including those left homeless in the recent Haitian earthquake and Burma’s cyclone Nargis. Lisa may no longer be with us but there’s comfort in knowing that the wishes of her charity to change lives, is being slowly fulfilled.
The death of a child can have a ruinous effect on the family left behind, yet it doesn’t always have to be that way. Nothing will ever erase the sense of loss or stop the living from wondering why fate or some remote, un-named force could take away what is most precious and valued: but good things can and do grow out of sadness. Stephanie and Lisa may have been strangers but these two young women achieved so much more than many of their contemporaries will ever rack up in a lifetime. That is their legacy to each and every one of us which is why it must always be recognised, always nurtured, and above all never forgotten.
For more information about the charity established in Lisa’s name visit: www.lisamayfoundation.co.uk