A kidney is for life, not just for Christmas
How a kidney transplant transformed my life
Ten years ago I had spent nearly five years on kidney dialysis, the only option to keep you alive if your kidneys fail. The most common type of dialysis means being attached to a machine, with 2 needles and tubes taking blood out of your body, having it cleaned and returning it back again. This is it does on an average 4 hour cycle, 3 times a week, and gives only 10–15% of the function of a working kidney. So that’s 162 days a year given up to treatment in order to stay alive. There are presently nearly 30,000 people undergoing this treatment in the UK. Mortality is 50% after 5 years and people on dialysis have a heavy burden with restrictions on fluid consumption (500 ml a day) and side effects like itching, poor mobility, exhaustion and depression. It is also very difficult for the rest of the family. In summary, you often feel quite awful.
However, this can change for some people. If they are well enough they may be able to receive a transplanted kidney, a gift of a precious organ from another human being who has passed away or has made a living gift.
Ten years ago, just before Christmas 2006, I went into Hammersmith hospital and had a session of dialysis. But this was different to the 100s of others as the next morning my husband Keith was to willingly don a surgical gown and, under a general anaesthetic, have his left kidney removed from him. Shortly after (although it felt like years), I also put my gown on and walked to theatre. The moment I woke up I realized that everything had changed. The lethargy which normally dominated my days had gone and I felt as though a light had been switched on, literally brighter. Keith’s kidney was already making urine, which was odd as I had not had a wee for nearly 5 years. More importantly to me, he was well and smiling at me from the next bed in the intensive care ward. I can never thank him enough for what he did, completely selflessly.
The last ten years have passed swiftly and I work nationally (for the British Kidney Patient Association) to improve life for others with kidney disease ; there have been personal challenges with infections, joint replacement and appendicitis, but the new life and energy I have been given has enabled me to travel and campaign ferociously. There are much bigger challenges for improving quality of life, variation in quality of care and access to informed choices for kidney patients.
Every day another 19 people develop kidney failure, every day someone dies while waiting for a transplant. Some are children. Only around 5,500 people are fit enough to be placed on the waiting list for a kidney. But you can do something about this, which will take just two minutes. You could add your name to the register of people who are willing to donate after death. It’s important to to let your family know your wishes too. You could even think about becoming a living donor — there are about 1,000 living donors a year, mainly to loved ones, but some donate without knowing who they are giving to. There are also 1,400 amazing families a year who agree to donate the organs of their loved ones.
So this Christmas, please spare a couple of minutes to think about the most precious and miraculous of gifts, that of life.
Keith and I, with our family, friends and Ollie the dog, will be raising a small glass to that gift this Christmas. Cheers!!