This is the letter we received from Mrs Marsha Eastwood, a Stirling local who became an altruistic organ donor last year.
Just over a year ago I was humbled in being able to donate one of my kidneys to a stranger, giving them the ‘gift of life’.”
My journey, however, really started over 12 years ago watching a documentary on TV about organ donation. The seed was sown and I thought I’d like to be a potential altruistic kidney donor if I could one day, but it would have to wait until I retired because, being single, I needed to finance myself.
An altruistic organ donor is when a person volunteers to donate a kidney to an unknown recipient, someone they have never met before or who is not known to them. The kidney is donated to the most suitable recipient on the national transplant list, using the same national allocation scheme that is used for deceased donor kidneys).
I then settled into retirement and actually forgot about donating until seeing on the Lorraine Kelly morning TV programme, an interview with two ladies; one had donated a kidney and the other was a recipient. It fired me up again to donate so I asked my GP where my nearest transplant hospital was. I then wrote a letter to Mrs Sarah Lundie, Living Donor Transplant Coordinator at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE).
Receiving my letter, Sarah rang me and, whilst it sounded as though everything seemed fine with my having a good medical history, when she asked my height and weight, I knew I was overweight and my BMI too high. This being the case, I couldn’t at this stage be considered for organ donation and so left it with Sarah that I would call her in 6 months time with a weight update.
Knowing the owner of Garratt’s Health & Leisure Club in Stirling, Mr Iain Jenkins, I joined his club for six months, going 6 days a week. My personal trainer knew my target and set about ensuring I met it within my time frame. After six months I not only got fit and strong, I also lost 3 stone and 3” off my bust, waist On my last day, Iain kindly gave me a letter to this effect confirming my dedication and commitment to reach my weight and fitness goal.
On receipt of my letter from Garratt’s, Sarah rang inviting me to my first hospital appointment at the transplant clinic at the RIE. Many other appointments followed over the next 12 months, which included meeting three surgeons, a psychiatrist, an independent assessor as well as going in as a Day Patient for every X-ray, scan and test the hospital had. Penultimate appointment was the surgeon going over in detail the results of these tests, followed by my cross match appointment then the operation itself.
Meeting the independent assessor is a legal requirement and must be someone independent of the transplant team. I had to provide 3 separate proofs of ID and he made a judgement about my motivation for donation. I also had to confirm to him I was neither being bullied to donate or being paid to do so (which is illegal in the UK).
Throughout my journey, I had lots of people to speak to. I was in constant touch with Sarah, my transplant coordinator and was allocated a ‘buddy’ – namely John Fletcher who lived near me and who had previously donated. Sarah and John were invaluable.
Give a Kidney also have a panel of donor volunteers who they can put you in touch with if you want to be supported who has already been a kidney donor. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and they can put you in touch with someone near to you.
At my last blood cross match appointment, I was thrilled to be advised they had a potential recipient for my kidney. Once the hospital identifies a match, that person is temporarily suspended off the organ register. This means, that during this suspension time, should a kidney become available, they are not taken into consideration being off the register. And so, at this stage of donating proceedings, things move rapidly. Blood samples were taken for both my hospital as well as the recipients. Soon after I received a call from the hospital confirming we were a match and my operation was the following week.
I was admitted pre-op assessment the day prior to the operation for testing of blood, urine, heart and blood pressure and then spoke with both the surgeon and anaesthetist. The operation itself was the following morning.
I arrived in Day Surgery at 07:30 gowned up, blood pressure and temperature taken again: disaster! My temperature was sky-high – despite my absolutely fine it put me at risk to undergo major surgery. So, 2 surgeons, anaesthetist and transplant coordinator, all took the decision to postpone my operation. As this wasn’t an operation I needed they felt it was, therefore, in my best interest not to put my life at risk more than was necessary.
I felt very sad that this had happened not for myself but for the other recipient in hospital somewhere the same day waiting on their life-saving organ to arrive. The medical team at RIE were great saying ‘these things happen’. How embarrassed knowing two hospital theatres were booked and fully staffed on operations that were cancelled because me (the healthy one) was sick on the day.
The transplant team’s decision proved right to postpone my operation at the 11th hour, because that evening and the following 3-days I had a raging temperature, sweating-freezing, felt tired and lethargic. Then as sudden as the virus arrived, it left. Before I was considered again for the operation, I had to attend an appointment at the transplant clinic for a white blood cell count – this would prove if the virus was out of my blood system. It was and so the Transplant Surgeon, Mr John Terrace, set up my operation for the following week.
The operation itself, for me was totally pain-free and I spent a very comfortable time in HDU before being transferred to the transplant ward and discharged five days later. I cannot speak highly enough of the excellent and professional care I received during my time at RIE.
Being a living organ donor, my kidney would be removed in the morning as the surgery takes approximately 3-3.5 hours (if all goes smoothly). The organ is then transferred by the safest method of transport possible and the recipient usually has it transplanted later that day somewhere in the UK. Whilst the transplant team make you aware of the risk of death undergoing major surgery, the percentage is extremely low but the benefit for me in saving a person’s life, made it worthwhile. Being an altruistic donor, the hospital keeps donor and recipient details confidential but I know in my heart someone somewhere has benefitted.
On discharge, I had a friend stay with me for a week and cannot thank Linda Lyle enough for all her care and kindness. Post op I was only a bit slower for a wee while then a month later I noticed my energy levels returned and I was driving again. A friend who also donated but was much younger than me, was back sky diving and scuba diving just six weeks post-op!
I will continue to attend annual check-ups at hospital for the rest of my life.
The first kidney transplant performed in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh was in 1961 and indeed this was the first successful kidney transplant in the United Kingdom. Since then, over 1,000 patients have experienced the benefits of kidney transplantation at Edinburgh Rental Transplant Unit.
Over the last 10 years, 600 people in the UK have become living kidney donors, with figures highlighting 87 people donated in the last year. Today, around one in three kidney transplants is now performed from a living kidney donor who is alive and well, and this continues to increase year on year. For every kidney available there are eight people on the waiting list so, sadly, the number of kidneys required greatly exceeds the number available.
Whilst dialysis keeps patients alive for many years and is OK, it only cleanses the blood 15% as compared a kidney’s 100%.
Also with renal failure, most people not only take lots of medication and go into hospital 3 days a week for dialysis, but their liquid intake is limited and they must keep an eye on their diet too. A successful transplant restores a recipient’s health.
Many altruistic donors (also known as non-directed) do not get through the rigorous testing and appointments for a number of reasons – I am happy and proud to say even aged 65, I passed every appointment, health check and test. There is no upper age limit in the UK for donation and in Scotland a person can legally choose to be a donor at age 16 (18 in England).
A kidney will never be removed from a living donor until the transplant team are satisfied that the short and long term risks to that person are low.
In 2006 the Human Tissue Act for Scotland came into force and provides the legal framework for organ and tissue donation. HTA updated its guidance on ‘Donation of solid organs for transplantation (Code of practice 2) in March 2013. This code sets out the HTA’s requirements for living donation of organs for transplantation, demonstrating the rigorousness of the process. Approximately 3,000 kidney transplants are performed in the UK each year, but sadly there are still 5,200 renal failure patients on the waiting list (400 are Scots), with an average waiting time of 3 years.
Most long term studies show that there does not appear to be any risk of serious problems from donating a kidney but the success rates of living donor kidney transplants are higher than for deceased donor transplants.
All in all, this truly amazing experience was one I will never forget and was the single most important event in my life of which I am so proud. With hand on heart, if I could donate again I would in a heartbeat.
After donating I joined ‘Give a Kidney’ charity group who meet regularly at the Hilton in Edinburgh with their aim to continue to raise awareness of living organ donation.
I also took in the a 3k donor run as part of the 4-day British Transplant Games held 27-30 July 2016 in Lanarkshire.
Photo left to right: Colin McLachlan, Marsha Eastwood and Grant Thompson.
A new 4-year NHS survey was launched by professional research teams from Guys Hospital, London and Plymouth University called BOUnD (understanding barriers and outcomes of unspecified (altruistic) kidney donation). This study is part of a larger project looking at altruistic kidney donation in the UK and is also and educational study with some of the data being used in academic research as part of a PhD thesis.
I was invited to take part in this important study and received a call from Rebecca Gare, the clinical trial manager. Rebecca explained the purpose of the survey and said donors are asked to complete four questionnaires over a period of a year: a base line, 2-3 days pre-op, 3 and 12 months post op.
The survey ends in 2020 when the data being used will better inform future altruistic kidney donors and the transplant professionals working in this field by creating new guidance based on the results. Overall, it is hoped this will improve the process of altruistic donation on a national level in the UK.
Whilst I was humbled and grateful to have been in a position to give a stranger the chance to lead a nearly normal life, it also turned the clock back for me. Losing weight and eating healthily, I feel fantastic, loving my complete new wardrobe of clothes and dropped from size 18 down to size 12. My confidence has returned and I do feel 10years younger.
The benefits of kidney transplantation are?
- Freedom from dialysis
- Improved capacity to socialise and enjoy life to the full
- Return of strength and energy
- Freedom from dietary restrictions
- No restriction on physical activity (except contact sports)
Why did I put myself through a major operation and risk my life when I didn’t need to? Good question, but the short answer is that whilst I’ve worked 43years full time during my working life, I’ve also spent half of that time doing charity or voluntary work in my spare time.
- I did a course in massage in obtained my Diploma from the Association of National Medicine in 1992. This qualification allowed me to massage the terminally ill in a hospice
- I raised funds for Guide Dogs for the Blind for three years
- In an Animal Shelter I did voluntary work every other Saturday for 2 years
- In Kings Park, Stirling I helped a group of volunteers from Friends of Kings Park with gardening.
- As a volunteer for the Butterfly Conservation Group in Stirling I count butterflies (April – Sept) at Plean Country Park.
- I’ve rescued 5 dogs in my life: my current three Papillon Dogs are all rescues
- Help rehome dogs through Papillon Rescue in Scotland and England
- I will continue to help others as long as I am able – that’s who I am
NHS Scotland – Altruistic Awareness Evening
Just as I was starting my journey as a potential living donor, I was invited to attend NHS first altruistic awareness evening at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh. I was excited to learn as much as I could as I proceeded down my donation path and met several people who had donated before me as well as many members of Edinburgh Royal’s transplant team. Several speakers included donors and recipients telling us their stories which I found so helpful.
The slides shown were informative and brought home the importance of donating when three people die every day because of insufficient organs. One of the slides was a beautifully touching poem
The Anonymous Gift
I received a gift a few weeks ago
It came to me from someone I didn’t know
This beautiful gift has set me free
What a precious gift
And given to me
This gift was given out of selfless love
And delivered to me with help from above
These gifts are so priceless, valuable and few
When you know of the gift you will agree too
With this gift I can hold my head high
To dream the impossible and reach for the sky
This gift will not be taken in strife
The gift I speak of is that of life
The gift of life handed me a key
It opened doors and set me free
Why more donors are needed
There are currently around 5,200 people in the UK on the waiting list for a transplant and 300 of these can expect to die this year in need of a kidney. This is completely unnecessary, when most of us have two healthy kidneys, yet only need one. Kidneys from living donors generally work better, last longer and the operation can be planned in advance, which is of benefit to both the recipient as well as the surgical/medical staff. Plus, a successful transplantation can save the NHS around £25,000 per year over the cost of keeping a patient on dialysis. So, for example, if a living donor transplant functions for 26 years, theoretically it saves our NHS about £650,000 (although, in practice people receiving dialysis are very unlikely to survive as long as those receiving a transplant).
Find out more:
Or contact: Colin McLachlan email@example.com
If you’d like to make a monetary donation to Give a Kidney, every penny helps raise awareness and makes a real difference.
Please consider going on an organ donation register so that when you die, there’s a possibility that your organs can save someone else’s life. It just takes a couple of minutes to sign up with Organ Donation Scotland or the NHS Organ Donation site, and tell your nearest and dearest your wishes too.
Marsha Eastwood (Mrs)