Not everyone gets lucky when it comes to finding an organ donor match.
Currently there are about 240 people awaiting a kidney transplant in the Portsmouth area alone.
Thankfully Bridget Malcolm, 51, did not face an agonising wait to find a match.
Her sister Claire Sharp, 49, was compatible, and only last week donated her left kidney.
The News followed the extraordinary and emotional story of the sisters, and today we share that with readers.
From speaking to the siblings about worries and fears, to being present for the operation, we hope this story will encourage people to sign the organ donor register.
Today is the start of National Transplant Week, which is run by NHS Blood and Transplant, and hopes to get more donors.
Bridget suffered from acute polycycstic kidney disease – a condition that causes cysts to grow on the kidney and stop it functioning properly.
Bridget, of Gosport, explains how initially she was in denial about needing a transplant.
The part-time care worker says: ‘I didn’t want to worry my family, for a start.
‘I just used to go and see my consultant Alison Hughes, and go through all the usual things – go through my blood results, check-ups, and would go home and say things were okay, and there were no changes.
‘I got so used to going on my own I kept it to myself, I was in denial.
‘At the beginning I was told there were two different types of the condition – one you live with it for the rest of your life.
‘The other your kidneys would deteriorate and you would need a transplant. That’s the one I thought I would never have.’
The kidney’s function is to remove excess water and waste from the blood. When this can’t happen naturally, people go on dialysis.
‘I wouldn’t know any different, apart from the tiredness. The first signs were tiredness,’ adds Bridget.
‘I was going home and telling everyone I was ok, because I didn’t understand.’
Eventually, Bridget told her mother about how severe the condition had become.
She says: ‘Mum couldn’t be a donor because she’s diabetic, and dad had suffered from cancer.
‘As my condition is hereditary, my children couldn’t donate, because they don’t know if they have it yet. They have to be over 30 before they get tested.
‘I couldn’t bring myself to speak to family, I was so upset.
‘I’ve never asked anyone for anything. I would rather do things my way and that’s when my mum said she would ask friends and family.
‘I found it very difficult to talk about it at the time. I did talk to my mum, but it was very difficult.’
Slowly family members found out, and closest sibling Claire, of Fareham, turned out to be the best match.
The sisters are being treated by the renal team at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham.
Claire, a cashier, explains how she made the decision to become a lifesaver.
She says: ‘I read things on the internet, and what the operation involves, and it’s quite a major thing to go through.
‘I have three children and I have grandchildren, so I want to lead a healthy life too. I needed to look at the quality of my life.
‘I asked my family if they had any questions, so I could ask the renal team.
‘I’m quite a strong person mentally, and I knew I could do it. It’s not just “you’re compatible – we’ll take your kidney”, you have to be prepared to go through this journey.’
Claire explains how she thought long and hard about the decision, but ultimately knew it was something she had to do.
She says: ‘I watched an operation on TV and that gave me encouragement. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
‘You think “they’re taking my organ, how will I live afterwards?”
‘The renal team say what if, what if, and need to make sure you’re ok. They ask “what if you damage your kidneys, and need dialysis?”
‘It all goes in, there could be complications, but then again you could get knocked down in the road.
‘If everybody thought that, nobody would donate, you take that chance, and it was one I was prepared to take.
‘When you go up on the renal unit some people are just desperate, and they need help.’
Now the sisters are encouraging others to sign up to the organ donor register, and help save lives.
Claire added: ‘I think it’s absolutely wonderful.
‘Mine and Bridget’s story is a happy one, other people aren’t as fortunate.
‘Contact the team to get tested. Everything is explained to you, they have all the information, and make sure you’re 100 per cent fit.’
SURGEONS EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENS IN OPERATION
WATCHING a kidney transplant is remarkable.
From impressive technology and equipment, to the skilled medical professionals involved, surgery was made to look easy.
Here, the two consultants involved with the procedures explain their role.
Keith Graetz, consultant transplant surgeon, removed the kidney from Claire Sharp’s body.
The main task is to unattach the organ from veins, arteries and fat.
He says: ‘The kidney is surrounded by fat to try and protect it from trauma and stop rupturing.
‘We have a ‘road map’ of the body and know where to go, so the procedure was straightforward and took two hours.
‘Coming forward as a live donor for someone you know, or even don’t know, is an extremely admirable thing to do, to give them a normal quality of life.
‘It is an operation you don’t need yourself, but the benefits for someone else, makes it all worthwhile.’
Once the kidney is removed, it needs to be prepared to go in to the recipient’s body.
Renal consultant Paul Gibbs transplanted the donated kidney in to Bridget Malcolm.
He says: ‘I take off clips put on to the arteries and veins to stop blood flow in the donor’s body, and flush the kidney through so all the blood comes out.
‘Then inside we have preservation fluid, and keep the kidney in ice at 4C, which shuts down the metabolism.’
NATIONAL Transplant Week is the annual UK-wide awareness week to increase understanding of organ donation and encourage more people to join the donor register.
In Fareham, 18 people are awaiting an organ, in Havant 12 people are on the waiting list, Gosport has 16 and Waterlooville has 15.
In Portsmouth 32 people are waiting for an organ.
The News is running special reports all this week in order to encourage more people to sign the organ donor register.
The annual awareness week is run by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). This year its theme is Pass It On.
It aims to get people talking to their families about becoming potential donors.
Sally Johnson, director of organ donation and transplantation for NHSBT, said: ‘We need a transformation in donor and family consent to organ donation because the UK’s family refusal rate remains one of the highest in Europe.
‘For this year’s National Transplant Week, we hope the people of Hampshire will Pass It On. We want everyone to be proud of our donation record in the UK.’
According to NHSBT, 95 per cent of families agree to donation if a loved one has discussed their wishes and is registered.
But this drops to only 46 per cent when donation wishes aren’t known.
As well as signing up to the organ donor register, it is vital people let those closest to them know that they want to be an organ donor.
There is no age limit to becoming a donor, as a person’s physical condition is the deciding factor.
Medical professionals decide in each case which organs and tissue are suitable.
Most people waiting for a donated organ need to have a kidney, heart, lung or liver transplant.
But one donor can help several people because a single person can give a number of organs, including:
· Kidneys – filter waste products from the blood before turning it into urine.
· Liver – one of the most complex organs in the human body. It performs more than 500 functions, which include digesting proteins and fats, removing toxins from the body, helping to control blood clotting and releasing bile – a liquid that breaks down fats and aids digestion.
· Heart – pumps oxygen-rich blood to every living cell in the body.
· Lungs – have two main purposes – to transfer oxygen into the blood when you breathe in, and to expel carbon dioxide out of the blood when you breathe out.
· Small bowel – is a long muscular tube in the stomach that moves partly-digested food to the anus and absorbs nutrients into the bloodstream.
· Pancreas – produces digestive enzymes and a hormone, and insulin to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Tissues that can be donated include:
· The cornea – acts like the front lens of a camera. Light rays are bent into the eye at an angle, enabling a picture to be projected on to the retina at the back of the eye.
· Bone – serves as a structural frame, works with ligaments, tendons, and joints to provide movement of the skeleton, an outer shell protecting our internal organs, houses bone marrow, and serves calcium to the body.
· Skin – The largest organ of the body. It protects you, heals itself and lasts a lifetime.
· Heart valves – control blood flow in and out of the heart.
· Tendons – strong bands or cords of tissue that attach muscle to bone. They help move the bones and joints when the muscles contract.
· Cartilage – is a tough, flexible tissue throughout the body. It serves two main functions – as a shock absorber and as a mould.
To find out more, visit transplantweek.co.uk, or call 0300 123 2323.