The day I met god Martin Elliott

*** Please do not read this if you are squeamish as the pictures are quite explicit. ***

I do believe that if you are kind and compassionate to others the universe sends you back a kind of energy.

Everyday I meet extraordinary people who all have extraordinary stories about their lives. As we all know, everyone has a story! Often very uplifting stories.

So, by saying hello everyday to a stranger, I always meet someone special.

However, there are times when I meet people who are truly beyond incredible, true superstars. People who knock me sideways. They are masters of their game and our true living gods. They are doing something that moves and turns our hearts upside down because they are that amazing at what they do or have done with their life.

The man that I will talk about today is such a man, one of these super-humans. He is the much loved and admired Professor Martin Elliot.

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How and why I take pictures in Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

We are all here for a purpose and to make a difference, to give some thing back in life. This is why I have decided to give my time to photograph the people of Great Ormond Street, to help raise awareness for this wonderful hospital and charity.

I thought it would interesting to photograph the hospital from a different view point of view, to celebrate the fabulous people that run this huge aircraft carrier siting  in the centre of London.

I began shooting behind the scenes in 2005 and the experience has been life changing for me.

So, in brief, when I am taking pictures in the hospital the rules and conditions to take any pictures are extremely strict, meaning I am always with a member of the Tick Tock charity team who carry special consent forms.

Taking photographs in a hospital is difficult, however, to take inspiring photographs is even harder.

Parents are often with very unwell children, some actually clinging to their life. This means that I have to be compassionate and extra careful when I am talking to parents or the hospital staff. This is why I always have to check with my Great Ormond Street Charity partner if the circumstance is appropriate. The charity then talks to the parents about what we are trying to archive with photography and asks them if they will allow us to photograph them and their child.

The parents are quite amazing and generally pleased that their child can help create awareness.

I start by saying hello, I ask their names and try to get to know them a little. We talk about their lives and the child’s condition and sometimes we can spend 30 minutes chatting.

As we’re doing this, I am trying to think of a different kind of picture. I don’t think anyone realizes how hard it is to take really different pictures. To be honest, it’s always so difficult for me to take these pictures because I always feel I am intruding on their very personal space, as if I am taking part of their life away.

I then try to do and say things that will cheer the parents and children up. I try to make everyone smile and happy which is so hard in this environment. Often, the last thing the nurses and doctors want is a photographers around intruding when they have lives to save. This puts extra pressure on me and the hospital’s Tick Tock charity team.

So, on this day, I was with the magical senior fundraiser Russell Delew and we were walking into the chapel at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital to have tea with a chaplain, when I saw a little boy coming towards me down the corridor in his plastic car. His mother was walking along just beside him holding his Oxygen tank that was attached to him. This is a common sight in a hospital, however, rarely do members of the public see this. I felt an urge to capture this moment.

Russell explained who we were and asked the mother if it would be suitable to photograph her son. She approved so I asked Gregory if he would like to drive his little car again for a picture. He was only too pleased and like all children he was having great fun.

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A  time capsule of a magical moment. Sadly, little Gregory, aged 4, lost his life not too long after I took this picture. I will never forget the joy on his face as I showed him the pictures of himself. What a happy little boy he was, even though he was so very unwell.

We were walking along with his mum out of breath and me literally trying to keep up with Gregory, shooting. I managed to capture about 10 frames, when a man said:

‘Hello. Who is this beautiful young boy, then?

This man was a very friendly surgeon. However, he was not any ordinary surgeon. Little did I know this was one of the gods of surgery – Prof. Dr. Martin Elliott.

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‘Hello. Who are you?’

‘Oh, I am Duncan. I am shooting the fabulous people of Great Ormond Street to raise money for the Tick Tock Club.’

‘Wow. I love photography! What camera are you using?’

‘Oh, a Canon 5D Mark II.’

‘Oh, nice camera. Where are you going now? Would you both like to see and photograph an operation later today? I am operating on a brave 2 year old little girl. But, I have to warn you, we could be in the theatre for hours.’

30 minutes later I was in blue scrubs, face mask, and a really heavy lead radiation jacket. I was now inside the heart of the hospital. They were such incredible professionals and here I was, eccentric Duncan, about to photograph a life saving operation.

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Martin and his team were performing a magical operation and I was given a grandstand position just 15 inches above them.

I thought I would faint as they literally unzipped the child’s chest. Normally, like most of us, I am really am squeamish seeing operations on TV. I tend to put my hands on my face.

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However, I was so welled up with adrenaline because of what I was seeing, Martin and his team perform with such precision. I was in such awe that seeing the  internal organs and blood didn’t faze me at all. It was a surreal experience.

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We were in the theatre for 6 truly awe inspiring hours. Yes, 6 whole hours. Non stop. Please not that these people do not take breaks which I find just amazing. It got me thinking: “Why does the media generally only tell us such negative news about the unbelievable NHS?”

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Yes, there pictures are a little explicit, but this is routine for the staff. Life saving operations are going on 24 hours a day in every hospital in the world, 365 days a year, while we are out and about enjoying our lives.

I find it fascinating that not more than 50 metres way from this Operating Theater, there are traffic wardens outside, in Great Ormond St. itself, trying to ticket parents’ cars, who are there just because they want to visit their children. That’s the two sides of life, just metres away from each other.

So, it was Martin’s kindness to invite me into the lifesaving operation that was the key turning point in my life.

From that day, I decided to give up photographing the well-known people, as it all felt so vacuous after seeing first hand what these nurses, anesthetists and surgeons do daily.

Bumping into Martin Elliot that day gave me a rebirth. I realized that I had to somehow celebrate the everyday people of the NHS who are the true superstars in life. The nurses, doctors, surgeons, anesthetists, professors, cleaners, everyone working in a hospital.

Yes, they are our true life savers who we generally only meet when we, or someone close to us, are unwell. Otherwise, we just do not celebrate these people, we somehow fail to see their worth, their dedication and hard work. Instead, we celebrate the people who have not earned it.

Thank you Great Ormod Street Children’s Hospital for making me a better person.

So, after 6 hours the operation on this tiny child was a success. She has now got another chance at life and her heart was again beating away  happily.

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Seeing this operation made me realize we all take for granted this magical organ, our heart, that works tirelessly 24 hours a day and never gets a holiday until we go to heaven.

When the lifesavers were walking out of the theatre, and although they were all exhausted, I felt I had to thank them so I asked to photograph Martin and his brilliant team. I quickly posed them up and made them smile with a few compliments and jokes. I love to get people into a group and ask them to bend backwards. They always make people laugh out loud as bending backwards makes everyone realize how wonderful life can be.

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Martin is  the “youngest” one, in the middle. Prof. Martin Elliott is one of the world’s true superstars. Martin is a genius and such a special person. Here is a little more about one of Britain’s greatest surgeons.

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I have been shooting all this voluntarily, behind the scene for Great Ormond Street Hospital for almost 6 years, however, this experience has transformed me as a person and I am currently reading Happier Today: part I— an introduction.

I photograph the staff and children for the a campaign to raise £10 million to help towards rebuilding the Intensive Care Heart Unit.

I wanted to help Great Ormond Street Hospital, and the wonderful people who save lives there, do more. You can do that too by donating to the Tick Tock Club. Even £3 a month makes a huge difference. Your donation  can do so much.

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13 Comments

  1. Brilliant stuff Duncan. Thanks mate.

  2. We are truly lucky to have the NHS with such dedicated doctors/hospital staff.

  3. Richard Watt says:

    Duncan, You have captured the magic that photographers dream to aspire to find, and you’ve done it with great affection, professionalism and humanity – the team at GOSH could not ask for a better ambassador for the amazing work they do, than yourself. Best wishes and keep shooting – Richard Watt

  4. loved it … Human… charming … real … keith cardwell

  5. So touching, so brilliant. Awestruck. Excellent work Duncan.

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  7. Wow wonderful we also think this man is a god having had him and his amazing term save my little girls life . We will forever be thankful that we met him .

  8. Wow! My son was operated on by Professor Elliot and his team and is still under his care at GOSH. He truly is a lifesaver and without him my little boy would not be here.

  9. What a lovely uplifting story.Makes me proud of my profession,xx

  10. Alison Lovegrove says:

    I love your photos, Duncan, which I first saw a Tick Tock event at Gosh in maybe 2007. My husband made a speech about how the Prof and his team saved our girl who then made a stage appearance. Martin is an extraordinary person and you do capture his brilliance alongside his incredible warmth.

  11. JUAN ANTONIO RUIZ says:

    Wonderful job, duncan, you are simply the best.

  12. Thanks for that Duncan, a really wonderful set of pictures, you should be proud….you have managed to capture so much vitality here…;-)

  13. Martin and his team saved my daughters life too. Anyone having the chance to spend time in Great Ormond Street, either as a visitor or as a parent whose child is sick, would find the whole experience truly humbling and so emotional.
    Forever thankful for what the NHS has done for us.

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