“Why I became a live kidney donor”
The waiting list for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor can run to years – there simply aren’t enough kidneys from people who have died for everyone who needs a transplant, particularly among ethnic minority groups. Receiving a kidney from a living donor is the best treatment option for most people. Living donor kidneys last longer than those from deceased donors, and usually mean the recipient can avoid dialysis. Operations can be scheduled and if a living donor is not a direct match for their recipient they can be ‘paired and pooled’ with other donors and recipients – allowing more people on the waiting list to have the chance of a transplant.
Although many living donors know their recipients, some people donate a kidney altruistically. Last year Eric McFarland, 41, became an altruistic donor and gave his left kidney away to a stranger. Read on to find out why and how the care he received at Hammersmith Hospital makes him proud of the NHS.
The question I’m asked most about being an altruistic kidney donor is why. And it’s the one I have the least satisfying answer to. I didn’t have an epiphany. There wasn’t a moment one day where it crystallised. No one person or event persuaded me. Instead it was a process of lots of thought and research.
By chance, I saw an altruistic donor on BBC Breakfast talking about their experience which opened my eyes to the possibility. As a TV producer, making medical programmes, I met children on dialysis and saw how waiting for a transplant can be debilitating. My father was ill for many years and at the time I felt a sense of helplessness, which perhaps donating has helped redress a bit. But, truthfully, there wasn’t a single reason. I started looking into it and couldn’t find a reason not to do it.
Not having an answer to the question ‘why’ might deter some people considering altruistic kidney donation. But my response is, if you feel in your heart it’s something you want to do that’s answer enough.
The day of my surgery
I wasn’t particularly nervous about the operation. I’m glad about that now because what good would it have done? Admittedly the weekend before the surgery felt unusual. I kept myself busy so I didn’t overthink it too much as no surgery comes with a guarantee. I felt like I was about to jump off a cliff but thanks to the excellent surgical team and all their preparations and tests, I knew there was a parachute and big pile of boxes to land on.
On the day of my operation, I saw the NHS at its best. Everyone was incredibly kind and professional. Coming round in the recovery room, I felt woozy, sore and a bit shell-shocked. I’d never had major surgery before and to be totally honest, you do feel rubbish afterwards. I had keyhole surgery which is great as it only leaves you with a minimal scar, but it does mean you come out quite bloated. It was a bit of a shock to look down and see my tummy looking like I was six months’ pregnant – but nothing passing some wind couldn’t solve!
When I regained consciousness, I was keen to let my husband know I was ok. I think I might have persuaded half a dozen different staff to call him – sorry about that! I also really wanted to know if the recipient’s operation had gone well. The moment my surgeon Mr Frank Dor gave me the thumbs up was easily the best of this whole experience. Anonymity is an important part of the process, so I’ll never know anything more about the recipient of my kidney. But to know that it all went well on the day for them is an enormous relief.
With stern encouragement from my surgeon, I was out of bed after the first night, and walking around and eating within 24 hours. After 48 hours I was discharged and two or three days after the operation I felt human again.
I probably met around 100 different NHS professionals during my journey as an altruistic kidney donor – from surgeons to porters – and I couldn’t fault one of them. It made me very proud of what we’ve got in the UK.
Becoming an altruistic kidney donor
I’m not going to try to persuade people into doing what I’ve done. I can happily reassure people, but live kidney donation is not for everyone. Each of us has our own motivations and parameters and commitments that will determine whether this sort of thing is right for us. I suppose what I can say is I’m very glad, having been through this process, that I’ve done it.
I could never find a convincing reason not to do it and I think if others feel that way too, I’d offer reassurance that the process itself is one that, I think, could barely have gone better.
We understand that living donation is not for everyone, but could it be for you? To find out more about how to become a living donor please visit the NHS Blood and Transplant service.
Having found out more information, anyone who wants to consider donating a kidney to someone they do not know (non-directed altruistic donor) can register their interest with a transplant centre here. Living donor co-ordinators offer advice and support and guide people through the process of assessment, which is necessary to make sure that it is safe to donate and that it is the right decision for the person concerned.