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Di’s Story

In 2010 I donated a kidney to someone I did not know. I first heard this was something you could do in early 2006 when a friend of mine in the United States donated their kidney. Immediately, my heart told me this was something I really wanted to do. Giving a small part of me that I didn’t need to someone else would make little difference in my life, but a huge difference in theirs – it was an easy decision for me to make. 

At that time, it was not legal to give a kidney to a stranger in the UK. I just patiently waited, believing that at some stage the law would surely change. Early in 2007, I found that I was able to do it, and I searched for information in earnest.  

My research got me the information I needed around the donation journey, the operation itself, and what the risks were. Recovery seemed to vary from person to person, but the length of time was acceptable for me. I also learned that living with one kidney afterwards shouldn’t present a problem, as long as I took care of myself. 

Nothing I found put me off. One aspect that did concerned me was the emotional side, so I looked into potential problems and how I would deal with them if they happened to me. What if the transplantation was not a success? How would I feel? I needed to know what I might expect and know that I could emotionally cope with the worst outcomes. 

Once I was satisfied that I had done all the research I needed and was happy with the results, I arranged an appointment at the Living Donor Department of my local regional transplant centre. I also told my ex-husband of my intentions at this point, as I wanted his help and support. I asked if he would come with me to the first appointment for moral support. He was great, he fully supported me and said he would help where he could.  

The only other two concerns I had were whether the hospital might think I was too old (at 57) and whether having an underactive thyroid would prevent me from donating. I need not have worried, as neither presented a problem! 

I underwent some initial tests, including a heart ECG, blood and urine samples, and having my chest X-rayed. My surgeon and the transplant co-ordinator asked me questions, and I was able to ask them some. I was not expecting all this on the first meeting, so was quite impressed and felt hopeful that they would accept me for further assessments. A few weeks later I heard back that they were happy for me to continue to the next stage, and another appointment was made. 

Now that I knew there was a chance I could actually donate, it was time to tell my son, Matthew. He was a farrier in the village and lived a few streets away. I told him what I would like to do and asked his views. I made it very clear that it was not something I had to do and that if he was not at all happy with it then I would not donate. My family did (and always will) come first in my life. After I had explained the risks and the procedure, Matthew said he was okay with me donating. Later he did voice a concern but, having looked into it all further, he was satisfied and said how proud he was of me for doing this. 

Over a period of around eight months I had various physical tests, none of them invasive or uncomfortable. I also had to see a psychologist who talked me through the emotional side of donating – what I might expect and how I felt I would cope under various situations. I was very pleased about this as my emotions had been of concern, and she helped me understand what I may face. I later saw a psychiatrist who wanted to make sure that I was donating for the right reasons and was not under any pressure to do so, or getting paid to donate. 

I have to admit that the whole evaluation process seemed to take forever and was quite frustrating at times. I think I expected to have all the tests over and done with in the first two or three weeks. But I suppose they have to take their time, making sure that everything is done correctly and not rushed – after all, this was an operation done out of choice, not necessity. 

Finally, all the tests were over with, and the HTA (Human Tissue Authority) gave their approval for me to donate. I felt so excited; finally it was all happening! 

The keyhole surgery itself was event free. My two-day stay in hospital was great. I was allowed to go home after two days. I did have some pain in the main incision area but, believe me, childbirth is far worse! The pain relief tablets worked well when I remembered to take them. I was very tired the first 10 days, sleeping during the day for an hour or so. After the second week things greatly improved, and although some tiredness remained for a few weeks, basically I felt great. I also heard that my recipient was doing fantastically well. 

Looking back on it all, I would not hesitate to do this again if I could. You certainly need a lot of patience as it isn’t a quick job. Go with the flow and take the time to make sure you really are committed to giving an organ away. Read lots of articles, read experiences from other people so you know what to expect. Even though it was a bit frustrating at times, the whole process really took little effort on my part and carried only a very small risk – but it was life changing for someone else and their family. 

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