Sammi Sparke knows just how lucky she is to be alive. At 23-years-old, while hooked up to a ventilator in hospital, the Sheffield woman was given just days to live. By that point, Sammi had been living with Cystic Fibrosis for two decades.
But Sammi’s story doesn’t end here, as so many others sadly do. Thanks to the last minute organ donor who saved her life, hours later Sammi underwent a successful double lung transplant. Six months later, she was a completely different person with a new lease of life.
“I’d been sick all my life and suddenly I was healthy. I felt free,” said the now-36 year old, of Ecclesall Road.
“I’d moved to the city for university in 2002 but, not long into my studies, my health began to deteriorate rapidly. I knew a transplant was my only chance of survival and I’m lucky that it came through just in time.
“As soon as they’d let me, after the operation, I packed my bags and set off around the world, I suddenly couldn’t wait to see everything that, months earlier, I’d thought I might never get the chance to see.”
Sammi spent the next two-and-a-half years trekking the globe. She visited Africa, South East Asia, China, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and South America.
“I grabbed life with both hands,” she smiled.
“I came back from my travels with a collection of photos of the amazing things I’d seen and it lit a fire under me to pursue a whole different career than the one I’d originally set out on a path to.”
After previously studying media at Sheffield Hallam University, Sammi embraced her love of pictures and nostalgia and signed up for a three-year photography course. In 2012, with a degree under her belt, Sammi moved back to Sheffield, from her family home in Cambridge, and set up shop as a professional photographer.
“I love my job,” she said simply. “Not just the actual act of taking photographs, but the idea of preserving a precious moment or memory for somebody. Nobody knows better than me how truly precious life is, and fleeting, and I’m in the wonderfully privileged position that I get to spend my life capturing a moment in time and immortalising it for the people I work with. It’s very rewarding.”
Sammi says her love of photography comes from growing up with a family who loved to take pictures.
“I think my dad is my major inspiration for photography,” she explained. “He always had a camera in his hands when we were kids and we’ve got all these great arty shots that he took of us. I’m sure he’s the main reason I love doing what I do.”
Sammi has done work for Social Sheffield magazine, Silversmiths Restaurant and charities such as The Sick Children’s Trust and Red Cross, but family photography is, above all, her speciality and her passion.
“I like the more natural shots, as opposed to studio photography,” she explained.
“I love going into people’s homes, getting shots of parents laughing and playing with their kids; of children interacting in a completely organic way with their mums and dads.
“This type of photography is about nostalgia, it’s about a snapshot of a family at a particular moment in time and that’s what make the images truly valuable.
“We’re all fascinated to look back at photos of our parents and grandparents and say ‘look at that hair, those clothes, that sofa!’ This is just a professional version of that - it’s a time capsule.”
And despite all the life she’s seen and lived since her life-saving operation, Sammi says there’s still plenty more on her to-do list.
“I have a massive bucket list left. There are so many things I still want to see and do,” she said.
“The two most magical places I’ve visited are Egypt and Peru, as the history of both places really resonated with me. I’m still fascinated by the east and would love to see more of it, as well as delving more into South America, but I’d also love to head to places I never made it to before, such as Japan.”
No doubt, when she does, her camera will be at the top of her bag.
And Sammi has a final message for anyone out there considering organ donation.
“For me it’s a no-brainer. Without organ donation I wouldn’t be alive today.
“If you die, your organs can either go into the ground, or they can save someone’s life. And I don’t know anybody who, given the choice, wouldn’t want the opportunity to save another person’s life. To me, it’s an easy decision.”
n Visit Sammi Sparke to see Sammi’s work for yourself.