“My heart told me to do it.”
Di Franks, aged 58, from west Berkshire, is an altruistic kidney donor who has written a blog about donating her kidney. You can read it at www.livingkidneydonation.co.uk.
In 2010 I donated a kidney to someone I did not know. A friend of mine in the United States donated one early in 2006, and that was the first I heard that you could. Immediately my heart just told me this was something I really wanted to do. Giving a small part of me to someone else would make little difference in my life but a huge difference in someone else’s – it was an easy decision for me to make.
It was not legal at that time in the UK, so I just patiently waited, believing that at some stage it would be. Early in 2007 I found that it was now legal and I searched for information in earnest. My research got me the information I needed regarding the evaluation process and the operation and what the risks were. Recovery seemed to vary from person to person, but the length of time was acceptable. I also learned that living with one kidney afterwards, as long as I took care of myself, presented no problem.
Nothing I found put me off and, having “accepted” the whole [medical] process, I could put that to one side for now. One other aspect that concerned me was the emotional side. I needed to look into potential problems and how I would deal with them. What if the transplantation was not a success? How would I feel? I needed to know what I might expect and know that I could cope emotionally.
Telling my ex-husband
Once I was satisfied that I had done all the research I needed and was happy with the results, I arranged for an appointment at the Living Donor Department of the regional transplant centre. At this point I told my ex-husband of my intentions, as I wanted his help and support. Would he come with me to the first appointment for moral support? He was great and fully supported me and said he would help where he could. The only two concerns I had were whether the hospital might think I was too old (at 57) and whether having an underactive thyroid would prevent me from donating. I need not have worried, as neither presented a problem. I underwent some initial tests, such as heart ECG, gave blood and urine samples, and had my chest X-rayed. I saw the surgeon, and he and the transplant co-ordinator asked me questions and I asked them some. I was not expecting all this on the first meeting, so was quite impressed and felt hopeful that they would accept me for further assessments. A few weeks later I heard back that they were happy for me to continue to the next stage, and another appointment was made.
Time to tell my son
Now that I knew there was a chance I could actually donate it was time to tell my son, Matthew. He was a farrier in the village and lived a few streets away. I told him what I would like to do and asked his views. I made it very clear that it was not something I had to do and that if he was not at all happy with it then I would not donate. My family did and always will come first in my life. After I had explained the risks and the procedure, Matthew said he was okay with me donating. Later he did voice a concern but, having looked into it all further, was satisfied and said how proud he was of me for doing this.
Over a period of around eight months I had various physical tests, none of them invasive or uncomfortable. I also had to see a psychologist, who talked me through the emotional side of donating – what I might expect and how I felt I would cope under various situations. I was very pleased about this as my emotions had been of concern, and she helped me understand what I may face. I later saw a psychiatrist, who wanted to make sure that I was donating for the right reasons and was not under any pressure to do so or getting paid to donate.
I have to admit that the whole evaluation process seemed to take forever and was quite frustrating at times. I think I expected to have all the tests over and done with in the first two or three weeks! But I suppose they have to take their time, making sure that everything is done correctly and not rushed – after all, this was an operation done out of choice, not necessity.
Finally, all the tests were over with, and the HTA (Human Tissue Authority) gave their approval for me to donate. I felt so excited; finally it was all happening.
The surgery itself
The keyhole surgery was event free. My two-day stay in hospital was great. Everyone was wonderful and the food was lovely and the bed so comfortable. I was allowed to go home after two days. I did have some pain in the main incision area, but, believe me, childbirth is far worse! The pain relief tablets worked well when I remembered to take them. I was very tired the first 10 days, sleeping during the day for an hour or so. After the second week things greatly improved, and although some tiredness remained for a few weeks, basically I felt great. I heard that my recipient was doing fantastically well.
Looking back on it all, I would not hesitate to do this again if I could. Even though it was a bit frustrating at times, the whole process really took little effort on my part and carried only a very small risk – but it was life changing for someone else and their family.