After eight months of hospital treatment, a beaming Max Johnson could not hide his excitement as he finally headed home this week.
But while packing his bags and saying farewell to staff, the nine-year-old heart transplant patient could not forget the other children who were not so lucky.
And he urged Prime Minister Theresa May to think of his tragic friend Ella Dee, eight, as he made a renewed plea to change the law on organ donation .
Max recalled: “I was in hospital for such a long time that I saw people who did not get their organs.
“I remember a little girl called Ella who was down on the ward. Then she got cannulas put in and she was taken to the high-dependency unit. I thought she must have got better. But she went upstairs and never came back.
“If Theresa May did change the law, there would be more organs for children like Ella. She’d be saving loads of lives. I would be surprised if the law is not changed – why would you want to bury your organs with you when they can save somebody?”
Max has been the face of the Change the Law for Life campaign run by our sister title The Mirror. It calls for England and Northern Ireland to follow Wales by bringing in an opt-out donor system, which presumes consent after death.
Scotland already has plans to do so.
Ella died last month after parents Alice and Darren decided to turn off her life support as she awaited a second heart transplant. Alice, from Middlesbrough, said: “Ella is proof there should be an opt-out system.”
Max fell ill with an enlarged heart in December 2016. He ended up at the Children’s Heart Unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, where a device was fitted to keep him alive until a donor could be found.
Since he received a new heart last month, parents Emma and Paul have seen his health transformed. He has rosy cheeks, a healthy appetite and boundless energy.
And the youngster sent his donor family “the biggest thank you in the world” as he said goodbye to the medical team who kept him alive.
With a winning smile, he said: “It is a dream come true going home.
“I feel so much better now, better than I have felt my whole life.
“It is hard to describe how thankful I am to the donor. I would not be here if it was not for them.”
Since leaving his hospital ward, Max has been staying at Scott House – a home from home provided by the Sick Children’s Trust.
Manager Andrew Leadbitter said: “It is the best part of the job seeing them go home happy, the gratitude from the families is amazing.”
Max’s story, and whole nine-hour operation, has been filmed for a BBC TV documentary . His surgeon Asif Hasan is backing the campaign.
Mum Emma, who is convinced the Mirror helped Max to find a donor, will continue to add her voice by speaking at an event during the Labour Party conference this month.
The market researcher, 47, civil servant husband Paul, 44, and older son Harry, 12, have been splitting their time between Newcastle and their home in Winsford, during his stay in hospital.
They all celebrated his return this week with a Mexican meal. Max will spend three months away from crowds to prevent possible infection but could be back at school before Christmas.
Emma told how her son’s harrowing wait for a donor organ had changed the family’s perspective on life.
She said: “It has been an awakening. I appreciate the importance of life, of seizing every moment and living for today. It has been an awful experience, but we are taking the positives.
“Max has been given a second chance – we intend to make the most of it.”
Almost 12,000 people have backed The Mirror petition calling for a law change. Visit mirror.co.uk/donor to join them.