Di Franks photo

“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.