Our son, Harry, died from meningitis on 26th April 2007, aged just 11 years old.
A much-loved boy, the youngest of our four children, Harry always had a beaming smile on his face and limitless enthusiasm for sport and life itself. Harry's short life was extinguished in a single day by this terrible disease and his loss devastated not just us, his family, but our whole community.
Playing football, rugby, cricket, tennis, athletics and cross country - sport was Harry's life, and he excelled in them all. In the four days prior to his illness, he had been unanimously voted 'man of the match' in a rugby competition, played tennis and represented his school in a football tournament at the David Beckham Football Academy. He woke the following morning feeling slightly unwell but with no obvious symptoms; we thought it was just a bug, and by the evening we even thought he was well enough to return to school the following day. It wasn't to be. During the night, he was sick and by 8.30am he was in an ambulance on his way to hospital.
The hospital staff at both Wycombe General Hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital were wonderful - very caring and compassionate - but despite their best efforts, they were unable to save him.
The decision to agree to donate Harry's organs was an easy one - in life Harry was always keen to help others, and for us, the thought that Harry would live on in some way was of some comfort. We have since had several letters of thanks from the recipients - and this helps us make some sense of the tremendous waste of Harry's young life.
From the moment of arriving home, we were overwhelmed by the response from all who knew Harry. There are no words to describe the love and kindness shown to us by our friends, Harry's school-friends, team-mates, coaches, school staff and even people we do not know. Harry seemed to have touched so many people's lives and the love and friendship that was his hallmark continues to live on after his death.
Friends set up a website to raise funds for the Meningitis Research Foundation and the Youth Sport Trust in an effort to do something positive in the face of such a tragic loss, and to date over £70,000 has been raised for the two charities. It also proved a useful way via which friends and acquaintances could send us messages.
The funeral was a wonderful send-off for Harry; so many people came that the church was packed to overflowing and loudspeakers broadcast the service to those outside - the whole of Marlow must have heard the final three cheers. As we left to make the short journey to Bisham Church where Harry is buried, I will never forget the sight of so many people crowding the bridge and silently saluting Harry on his way. Harry's friends wrote messages and attached them to a hundred red balloons which were released into the bluest of skies. As we stood in the peaceful Bisham churchyard, they floated overhead and a boat from Marlow Rowing Club glided silently by - it was a truly awe-inspiring moment.
The cocoon of support that sustained us then, continues to sustain us. We have passed all the daunting first anniversaries, and whilst his loss is as keenly felt now as then, we continue to live our lives, work, play and have fun - it's what Harry would've wanted. The spirit that made him so special continues to work its magic - there have been, and continue to be, many fundraising events organised by friends young and old that ensure his memory lives on, a tribute to a very special boy.www.harrymills.co.uk
JUDI AND RICHARD MILLS