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Born to Shine filming in Liberia: “That’s why we’re here”

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was on a full frame close up of Jacob at the moment he died. I think that image will be in my head forever. It’s almost as if it were burned into my retina.

Jacob was nearly two years old and had been admitted to Kakata Hospital a few hours earlier, when we met him as we filmed Dervla Kirwan’s trip to Liberia for Born to Shine. He was desperately ill with malaria, he was anaemic, and had difficulty breathing.

The fight for life

The medics struggled to get an IV line into him because his pulse was so weak that most of his veins had collapsed. They managed to find a vein on his head and then quickly got him on oxygen. If they could only get him a blood transfusion there was every hope he would survive. Jacob’s father gave blood and the transfusion was in progress, but it was just too late to save him.

It sounds naïve but somehow it didn’t occur to me that Jacob would die. I thought that what I was filming was his life being saved. I was concentrating on the pictures and had that kind of tunnel vision you get when you’re staring down a camera lens. Even when Jack, who was directing me, touched my arm and told me to come away, I still hadn’t fully understood that the worst had happened.

And then there was silence

We left the emergency room and sat outside in silence for a few minutes. I couldn’t speak. Shortly after, Jacob’s mother and aunt came running out of the ward with a cry of physical pain that was hard to bear. I had this overwhelming feeling that I shouldn’t be there, intruding on this terrible grief.

We walked over to the cars where the rest of the team were waiting for us. We decided to record a piece to camera with Dervla in the back of the vehicle. Dervla managed to express brilliantly what I think we were all feeling and for me, it was hearing her words that helped make sense of what we had just been doing. “That’s why we’re here,” she said simply to the camera, “because we need your help to stop this happening.”  

In Jacob’s memory

Jacob’s family invited us to come to his funeral. At the graveside Jack made a promise to Jacob’s father that we would do our very best to tell his story so that other children’s lives might be saved.

I hope the film we made was powerful. I hope that as many people as possible see it and feel motivated to give. And I hope that the money we raise will stop more children dying needlessly as Jacob died. Then I think that in some way we will have done justice to Jacob’s memory.

Please watch the film this Sunday on a special extended Born to Shine, at 7.30pm on ITV1.

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