On New Year's Day 2010 as I did my morning jog listening to Radio 4, I stopped to listen to an inspirational lady who had donated a kidney to someone she did not know, and I decided that this was for me.
I had previously donated over 60 pints of blood until a car accident made me ineligible for further donations. It is impossible to thank the NHS or the people who rescued me enough – it took nearly two hours to extricate me from the wreck of my Nissan which lost control on an icy corner. A passing GP had a chest drain and called her anaesthetist husband from bed to insert it.
As a GP the most time consuming and chronic patients were those on renal dialysis and it seemed a fair return to give someone else a life. I contacted our local transplant unit and had an appointment with their coordinator nurse, who looked after me throughout the 18-month process.
My wife and family were naturally upset, but my mind was made up.
Initially the consultations and tests were straightforward but increasingly they became intrusive and painful. Counsellors, physicians and surgeons all needed the reassurance that the kidney was sound and coming from someone with a sound mind. The psychiatrist was not amused when I started with 'you must think I’m mad to do this'!
A MAG3 split function test showed the right kidney was providing 42% of my total renal function. The final test, the renal arteriogram, was taken with blood everywhere from an arterial puncture, and showed a single artery to the right kidney, making it amenable to a laparoscopic nephrectomy.
My wife sometimes felt unsupported and the independent assessor of the Human Tissue Authority asked the co-ordinator to put us in contact with another donor’s wife, which helped, but neither of us could adequately prepare for the big operation.
As the date approached my anxiety grew, not only because of worry for my family but also an increasing sense of failure. Chest pain, sweats and insomnia were all new experiences made worse as they were entirely of my own making. I was also very aware of the waste of precious resources if it all failed.
Final cross matching was completed, as well as more blood tests for research trials. As the date approached lots of gardening had to be done as well as final instructions as to the position of the stop-cocks etc around the house.
After ‘the last’ family lunch we arrived at the hospital to find the ward full, so I was seen in the waiting area until a bed was found.
I managed only three hours sleep before my wife arrived to escort me down the miles of corridors to the theatre. The four-hour operation went well and I awoke on the ward feeling quite perky but I finally had to get up at 4am for some painkillers from the nurses’ station.
My wife took me home the next afternoon for some sleep, albeit intermittent as the remaining kidney seemed to be working for both.
Once home, interest in me from the medical team rather drained. I suppose I was supposed to know that seven days was too early to start jogging again and that at nine days it was silly to lift the ride-on lawn mower when it became stuck.
I am writing this to show my appreciation for all the care given by the transplant team. If you are fit, have the time and the inclination then it is something that is worth considering. But asked if I would do it again, well perhaps no – I need the other one.
- Dr Smith is a retired GP.