The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away by Cole Moreton

"Make a fist with your hand and place it roughly where you think your heart should be," Cole Moreton instructs us at the start of his set, The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away. "Now spread your fingers and press them down firmly. Can you hear it? Can you hear your heart?"

This is a challenging hour, but an important one, that prompts an appreciation of life.

I, sadly, couldn’t, but Moreton assures this is not unusual, though he’s about to tell us a story that is. Not so much a story, but a real-life (and death) event that began in the Summer of 2003. Martin Burton, a cheeky, sensitive 16-year-old was living in Grantham, Lincolnshire and Marc McCay a talented, football-mad 15-year-old lived in Johnstone near Glasgow and had just returned from holiday. Over 300 miles separated these boys, but soon their lives would become uniquely intertwined forever. Heartbreakingly, both boys fall, suddenly and dramatically ill and, even more tragically, Martin does not pull through. Yet, his incredible parents find the strength to think of others in this darkest hour and agree to organ donation. Marc McCay is the beneficiary of Martin’s heart.

And this is the basis of Moreton’s piece: the story of a tragedy and of something amazing that results. But it’s more than this as Moreton is not only an award-winning interviewer (Interviewer of the Year 2016) and experienced journalist, but also a rock-turning researcher and he relays this tale with nuanced details about the boys, their families, their lowest lows and how Martin’s mother, Sue, comes to feel her son’s heart beating strongly inside Marc’s chest. Moreton is a storyteller, so he pauses, holds eye contact, paces the room, sings a poignant self-composition, and, at times, enacts scenes – for example Martin’s Dad sitting in an American airport, coming to terms with his son’s vegetative state. And this is ok, because it makes the story real to the audience, it makes someone else’s story touch us and it becomes our own. The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away is also Moreton’s book of this account, published in 2017, (and his BBC Radio show) and he supports his delivery by reading excerpts and also through static TV visuals, assisting us to picture the main characters and the various different settings of their tale from football pitch to ICU room. But these images, like Moreton’s account, are not intrusive or shocking but respectful – most of the stills are generic types of hospitals beds, ambulances, heart diagrams and only a few feature the real people involved.

There are some gaps in the narrative that I would like to have seen; namely more details of the two mums’ relationship and also the sad conclusion of Marc’s untimely death. But this story, as Moreton admitted, has touched him deeply and maybe some memories are just too raw, too painful to share. This is a challenging hour, but an important one, that prompts an appreciation of life. Moreton re-confirms our admiration for the amazing NHS and how parental love is the most selfless and the most painful but, most importantly, perhaps, about how we can turn tragedy around, how something worthwhile can grow out of the worst moments and he does so with equanimity, sensitivity and respect.

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The Blurb

Cole Moreton is a writer and broadcaster exploring who we are and what we believe in. His Radio 4 series 'The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away' won Best Writing at the World’s Best Radio Awards in New York. Cole now tells this deeply moving true story live on stage. Interviewer of the Year in 2016, he has written for 'The Guardian', 'The Independent', 'The Times', and 'The Mail on Sunday'. A resident of Sussex and father of four, Cole admits he was squeamish about organ donation until his mind was completely changed by meeting the families in this story. It’s also a testament to the wonder that is the NHS.

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