When Nicole Mackenzie needed a kidney transplant at the age of just 11, her dad stepped in, giving her the gift of life.
Being a compatible match, it meant that Nicole, from Purbrook, was given a new lease of life thanks to her father.
But she never dreamed that having an organ transplant would enable her to become the proud holder of 61 gold medals having competed as a swimmer in the Transplant Games.
The 19-year-old has travelled around the world competing in both the European and the World Transplant Games for her country.
It all started when Nicole was diagnosed with kidney failure.
Nicole’s mum Julie recalls the symptoms that led to her daughter’s diagnosis when she was just three-years-old.
‘She was lethargic, she was unwell. She was just sitting around and didn’t have much energy. She also had a poor appetite,’ she says.
‘It came on quite suddenly. She had a fast heartbeat as well.’
Nicole was referred to St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth. At the time, they thought there was a problem with her heart and she also had really high blood pressure.
But after carrying out blood tests, doctors discovered that she had a problem with her kidneys. She was referred to the renal unit at Southampton General Hospital and went into intensive care.
Julie, and Nicole’s dad David, were told that her kidneys were failing.
‘They said that she would probably need to go on dialysis,’ says David.
‘We were shocked. We hadn’t realised that she was that seriously ill.’
But eventually Nicole’s parents were told that for the time being, she could get by and they just needed to rely on medication, fortunately without the need for dialysis.
‘They said that eventually, she would need a transplant and they would keep her on medication until she needed it. That went on until she was about 10 when they said that she needed a transplant quickly.
‘We were both tested and we were both compatible. So it was about which one of us would do it.’
David donated a kidney in March 2009 when Nicole was 11.
Had neither of her parents been a match, Nicole would have ended up on the waiting list for a transplant.
‘I remember it very well,’ Nicole recalls. ‘I remember waking up and the recovery afterwards. I stayed in hospital in London for six weeks. I had check-ups every day.
‘I went to school in the hospital. I was missing a lot of school at the time and I was in Year 6.’
Nicole responded to her new kidney well. ‘It’s like a foreign part of the body so your body will take a while to get used to it,’ she says.
‘It’s amazing. If I didn’t have the kidney transplant, I wouldn’t be here today. You could say I took the easy route having my dad be a compatible match rather than waiting on the organ donor list.’
It was shortly after that when Nicole learnt about the Transplant Games.
‘I got introduced to it by the renal consultant. She told me about it and said to come to the 2009 British Transplant Games in Coventry.
‘That was my first year. It was in August and was too soon to compete.’
But Nicole did compete in Bath in 2010, winning a gold and three silvers.
‘At the time I was only swimming once a week. I had been swimming since I was four but it was only swimming lessons. I wouldn’t have gone into swimming seriously if it wasn’t for the Transplant Games.’
She then went on to represent Team GB at the World Transplant Games in South Africa in 2013. By then, she was swimming eight times a week, sometimes at 5am.
She came home with seven gold medals and won an award for Outstanding Female Junior Athlete.
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ she says.
‘I had to go on stage in front of all these people. I was quite shocked.
‘Hundreds of people go to these games. That was really amazing.’
Last year, she competed in the European finals in Finland, winning three golds and two silvers and two additional silver medals in relay races. It was the first time she had competed in the adult age group from 18 up to 29.
‘That was definitely the year for me in regards to how much I had improved. At the start of the year we sat down and set targets and times. I wanted to knock five seconds off my time – and I did.’
This year, Nicole flew to Malaga for the World Transplant Games and won a further seven gold medals and set an incredible five world records.
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ she says. ‘When I looked up at the score board and saw that I was first I burst into tears.’
Nicole now works at Marks & Spencer in Havant and fits her swimming in around that.
She trains at Portsmouth Northsea Swimming Club at the Mountbatten Centre.
‘Now, my goal is to get to the next European Transplant Games in Italy in 2018. The main thing after that is to get to the next World Transplant Games in Newcastle in 2019.’
And her parents are in no doubt that she’ll do it.
To see a video of Nicole go to portsmouth.co.uk.