Julie’s Story

My name is Julie, I’m a 46yr old Mum of 2 young boys and in Oct 2014 I became the 17th altruistic kidney donor in NI. It has been one of the most positive experiences of my life that started with a casual remark, I’d like to share it with you.

A few years ago at work it started to snow heavily and our Principal had to close the school early to ensure all the pupils and staff got home safely. As we were leaving a lovely teacher, Deirdre, who was subbing at the time mentioned she had to go to Belfast and was dreading the journey. I told her she was mad, the forecast was for even heavier snow and she said she had no choice, she had to go for dialysis. I was stunned, I had no idea she was sick. She opened her car boot and showed me an emergency foil blanket, small flask and well used shovel..no matter what the weather had in store, she had to have her treatment.

I went home in awe, she was such a hard working, conscientious teacher, it seemed impossible she could be so ill. A year or two passed, life carried on and I had my second son. When I came back from maternity leave Deirdre was now a permanent member of staff and even better, she’d received a kidney from her sister after 7 years on dialysis. During a chat about her experience she casually mentioned that anyone could be a kidney donor..”..you could be a donor” when I replied “..but I don’t know anyone who needs a kidney” she that didn’t matter and there was a long waiting list of people needing a kidney in the UK.

I had no idea you could donate to a stranger but right then I had a moment of clarity that this was for me, something I was meant to do.

As I wasn’t long back from maternity leave I was advised to wait until our boys were less dependent so 3 years later, with my family’s blessing, I started the process. From the 1st phone call to wonderful Pauline one of the living transplant co-ordinators at Belfast City Hospital, I was at ease and and the whole assessment process was clearly explained to me. She told me I could back out at any time but I knew in my heart that if I wasn’t medically rejected for some reason I was definitely going to do it.

Tests done over the next few months included lots of bloods, a chest X-ray, ECG, kidney ultrasound, CT scan and psychological assessment. No problems showed up at all, I was fit and healthy with 2 perfectly functioning kidneys. I met the amazing team at the City, Aisling Courtney (Consultant Transplant  Nephrologist) and Mr Brown (Consultant Transplant Surgeon) who explained the whole procedure, spoke to a previous altruistic donor Catherine who shared her remarkable story and really knew then I was in safe hands.

Initially I chose to be part of the pooled donor scheme and was matched with a lady in London who had a willing donor who wasn’t a match but was happy to donate to someone else on the waiting list so 2 people would benefit from a new kidney but unfortunately she became unable for surgery and this fell through. I then decided to come out of the pool and donate directly to someone on the waiting list. A short while later I was matched with 28yr old David in Birmingham and the date was set for 14/10/14. I was so excited.

The keyhole surgery went really well and ‘Sidney the Kidney’ was on the 2 o’clock Flybe flight to his new home. After hours of sickness and low blood pressure I was on the road to recovery with no exterior stitches and 4 small neat scars. Later that night I heard David was through his surgery and his new kidney was working perfectly, I was elated!

Over the next few days I had a lot of discomfort around my lungs from the gas used during keyhole surgery but was well looked after by the fantastic nurses on the 11th floor South. I had visits from my surgeons Mr Brown and Mr McDaid who explained just how well the surgery had gone, they had done an amazing job. I shared a ward with kidney patients and was astounded to hear their stories of kidney failure, sickness, dialysis, complications, difficult diet restrictions and operations. They were all so positive though, it was very humbling, I’ll never forget them.

I went home 3 days after the operation and heard that David was doing so well he was home just 6 days after surgery. At a check up a week later I met up with the surgeons again and saw the most amazing PowerPoint presentation of my whole operation  that was already being used for nephrectomy teaching purposes in the City hospital and Beaumont hospital in Dublin..it was incredible to see.

Exactly a month after surgery I received a very moving letter  from David through the transplant co-ordinators explaining how much his life had changed already and how grateful he was. His Mum and sister also wrote very touching cards, I was so emotional and on a high for weeks. I went back to work after 12 weeks and haven’t looked back.

One year on I’m doing great, kidney function is excellent, blood pressure perfect, tiny scars are almost invisible. David is working full time now at the Jaguar factory in Birmingham and the very best news is he’s going to be a Dad for the 1st time in March, how amazing is that !?

Being an altruistic donor has been an incredibly positive experience for me. I know I’m very lucky and so grateful to have heard from my recipient, most donors don’t which is what you’re prepared for and accept before you donate. I would do it all again in a heartbeat but as that’s impossible I hope sharing my story will inspire someone else to consider donating this way. So many people could change/save a life and in some cases help create a new one, how wonderful would that be?