Bridget Malcolm was on her feet all day at Christmas, bustling around the kitchen, sorting out presents and playing with her young granddaughter.
But far from complaining that she wasn’t getting much of a rest, Bridget relished the chance to do everything she could.
This time last year it was a very different picture. The 51-year-old Gosport grandmother spent much of the time on the sofa, shivering under a blanket and frequently falling asleep.
Suffering from acute polycystic kidney disease, Bridget’s condition was deteriorating quickly and she either needed kidney dialysis or a transplant.
Her 59-year-old sister Claire was a perfect donor match, but she was recovering from another operation and the future looked very uncertain.
But 12 months on, the transplant has been a success. Bridget now has one of her sister’s kidneys and feels full of energy and hope.
‘At Christmas I was on my feet from first thing in the morning. I think I sat down for about two-and-a half-hours for the whole day. And I loved every minute of it’ laughs Bridget.
‘I did breakfast for everyone, then it was on to dinner. It was so tiring for me last year that I wanted to do it all this year.’
As she speaks, sister Claire looks very satisfied – and a little emotional.
‘I get a bit tearful at this point,’ she says ‘I can see Bridget moving forward with her life, and doing all the things she couldn’t do with her family. I feel like I can sit back quietly now and be very fulfilled.’
The sisters spent Christmas apart – Bridget with husband Robert, her two children and granddaughter Karina and Claire with husband Paul and their children and grandchildren.
The sisters’ mum Dawn says: ‘Bridget wanted to do everything but we felt it would be too much for her.’
They have come together a few days after Christmas to tell their story and help and inspire others
That was their reason for allowing The News into theatre back in July to witness Claire’s operation. A reporter had unprecedented access to the procedure and gave readers an insight into the experience.
‘We felt it was really important to raise awareness because there are so many people waiting for donors to come forward,’ says Bridget.
The women became something of celebrities on the ward – partly because they were sisters having operations at the same time, but also because the procedures were carried out on Bridget’s birthday.
Her problems began much earlier when she was diagnosed with the disease in her early 30s.
It was slow to progress at first but her kidney function started to deteriorate more rapidly. That left her increasingly tired and cold. She also suffered back pain.
Finally she was told she needed a transplant or dialysis (a procedure where a machine performs the blood cleaning function of the kidneys).
Claire says: ‘Bridget had so much energy when she was younger, we used to do a lot together, go out partying that sort of thing. But over the years she deteriorated a lot and it was quite painful to watch.’
When Bridget heard about the transplant and need for a donor, her mum Dawn and her husband Michael came forward straight away.
Bridget’s husband Robert, her other siblings and friends also volunteered but Claire was the best tissue and blood match.
Claire had to consider her own family who proved to be extremely supportive.
But the 18-month road to the operation, which took place in July, was full of emotional upheaval. Claire needed an unrelated operation and the family had to wait for her to recover.
Both sisters received counselling to make sure they were ready and there were frequent health checks. The plug could have been pulled at any time.
On the day of the procedures the sisters spent some quiet time together.
‘I didn’t know what to say to her. There were no words to thank her for what she was doing,’ says Bridget. ‘She just looked at me and said “Bridget, you don’t have to say anything”.’
For both sisters that was it, no more to be said, no thanks required.
Claire had made her decision, was willing to face risk, pain and discomfort, and even wanted the kidney to go to someone else if Bridget’s transplant couldn’t go ahead.
She’s also adamant that Bridget thinks of the kidney as her own.
‘There’s no need to keep reminding her. It’s hers and I just want her to get on with her life,’ she says.
Bridget’s pet name is Biddy and the family now call the organ Biddy Bean.
They’re thrilled with her progress. ‘We noticed the difference straight away. Her hands were nice and warm, she had colour in her cheeks,’ says husband Robert.
Bridget has been through an emotional time since the operation, with frequent hospital visits taking their toll .
But she’s extremely grateful that the transplant has been successful. She’s now planning to return to her job as a care worker but she’ll have to take it easy and see how things work out.
‘I consider myself very lucky not to have waited for a transplant for too long. And I’m now starting to feel like I can look ahead,’ she says.
Claire wants to get the message across that you can donate and enjoy the same quality of life afterwards. Although she recognises that their operations went particularly well and there can be complications with others.
The rewards speak for themselves but she says: ‘As soon as the operation was done I could see that I’d got my sister back – the sister I had 20 years ago.’
Polycystic kidney disease causes cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to develop on the kidneys.
The most common type is an inherited condition called autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD).
With ADPKD, problems commonly do not develop until the age of 30-50, with some people never experiencing problems.
But about half of people with ADPKD develop kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant by the age of 60.
The kidneys clear waste materials from the body and maintain a normal balance of fluids and chemicals.
This function deteriorates in people with polycystic kidney disease.
There is a national charity which offers support for patients and raises funds for research. Visit pkdcharity.org.uk or call the support line on (0300) 111 1234.
NHS Blood and Transplant runs the Organ Donor Register and needs more people to identify themselves as donors.
Each person on the register is precious as fewer than 5,000 people each year in the UK die in circumstances where they can become a donor.
Anyone who joins should talk about the decision with family and friends. Letting them know what you’ve decided makes it much easier for them to support your decision.
A kidney can be donated by a living person. Sometimes a donor and a recipient may be incompatible with each other and in this case it may be possible for them to be paired with another donor and recipient in the same situation.
For further information about all types of donation, visit organdonation.nhs.uk or call (0300) 123 23 23.