GP interview - Saying thank you with a kidney

Hampshire GP Dr Roger Sutton explains how he donated a kidney to a stranger.

Dr Sutton donated a kidney
Dr Sutton donated a kidney

Four years ago I was approaching 50 with much to be grateful for; our silver wedding anniversary, three married sons, a first grandchild, and a GP practice in Havant, Hampshire, with a tradition of sabbaticals.

In 2001, I cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, then in 2007 completed the Lake District's Bob Graham round. So I was considering what to do for the next one when the idea of donation began to crystallise, a 'thank you' for all the good times.

I can see that there's been a renal thread through much of my past.

Grandma lived over 30 years after her nephrectomy; as a medical student I watched a renal transplant; in the 1990s a good friend developed renal failure but had a successful transplant; and Debbie, my wife, does renal dietetics and research.

The process, from first contact with a transplant co-ordinator to surgery, took eight months. Multiple tests and scans; with physical, mental and legal assessments to ensure I was fit to donate. It was a fascinating process, especially as it took place in the hospital where I was once a junior doctor. It was impressive to see how much care was being taken to minimise operative risks. Finally, a recipient was found and a date set.

The only problem was my stupidity, caught chewing gum by my anaesthetist. She planned to cancel surgery but anxious calls to the receiving hospital meant only a two-hour delay, much to my relief.

In recovery I recognise the nurse's voice: 'Breathe Roger, breathe!'

She used to be a colleague at my side and is now berating me for my lax attitude to respiration. On day one, the hospital chaplain visits to anoint me with oil for healing. I'm home three days post-op and travel to Cumbria, not to climb the fells, but to be climbed on, by grandson Freddie,who has no time for the delicacies of convalescence.

I'm told that my recipient is a 10-year-old lad, Tom, who's doing fine. It's exciting news, the impact of donation becoming a reality. Several months later my transplant co-ordinator phones to say she has some cards for me and would I like to see them? Tom's parents have written to say how well he's doing and describe the transformation in his life. It makes very moving reading.

Following an exchange of letters and Christmas cards we finally get to meet up. It's April 2013, almost two years post-transplant. Debbie and I travel to Great Ormond Street Hospital and have a couple of hours with Tom and his family, comparing scars and stories. His has been much the harder road, but now he has a future to look forward to. Say 'thank you' with a kidney and transform a life!

  • Dr Sutton is a GP in Havant, Hampshire.

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