“It was an easy decision for me to make.”
Nicholas Crace, aged 83, a former charity director from Hampshire, gave a kidney to a stranger in spring, 2012. He was the oldest person in the UK to have done so.
Nicholas Crace had good health and no dependents when his wife, Brigid, died in the summer of 2011. Nicholas was at first kept busy sorting out her affairs. He had looked after Brigid, with the help of carers, since she had had a stroke in 2005 and this had kept him fully occupied. So he found having plenty of time but little to fill it with, an unfamiliar situation. At the age of 83 he found appropriate voluntary work hard to find, and enrolling as a volunteer driver for the local hospice solved only part of the problem.
All his life he had been a blood donor (57 donations), but donors over the age of 70 cannot be accepted. He thought of offering to give bone marrow, but here the cut-off age is 40. So his thoughts turned to the possibility of giving one of his kidneys.
“I cannot remember quite what put the idea of being a living kidney donor into my mind,” he says, “but in September 2011 I thought that it might be worth investigating. After all, I was in good health, had no dependents and had plenty of time at my disposal. A call to the NHS Organ Donor Centre gave me the location of the nearest Renal Transplant Centres, one at Portsmouth and the other at Oxford. I decided to contact Portsmouth (Queen Alexandra Hospital).”
Donating a kidney is not simple. The health of the potential donor has to be thoroughly examined, as well as the wellbeing and anatomy of the kidney, and this involves a number of tests. During the six months after he put his name forward he made fourteen visits to the hospital for tests and examinations, each involving a round trip of nearly 100 miles. Although the tests are painless and unstressful, each one could have revealed a reason for the kidney donation being unacceptable, which led to his increasing anxiety as each test was successfully concluded. “I would have been very disappointed if I had been turned down,” says Nicholas. “I was ideally placed to be a donor after the hospital had established that I was fit and had excellent kidneys. One can live perfectly happily with only one kidney – in fact some people are born with only one.”
“A new lease of life”
“We know from numerous studies”, says Consultant Surgeon Sam Dutta, who performed the operation, “that a living donor kidney performs better, works quicker and lasts longer; all the detrimental factors related to being on dialysis, leading to early death because of heart problems, are completely taken care of by a good functioning kidney. An altruistic donor coming forward is an amazing thing for us. The recipient just gets a new lease of life”
“An easy decision”
Three kidney patients die every day waiting for a transplant, 7,000 are on the transplant list and the average wait for a transplant is three years. “I couldn’t have lived with myself with the knowledge that I had had the chance of changing someone’s life and turned it down,” said Nicholas. “Giving a small part of me to someone else will make little difference to my life but a huge difference to someone else’s – it was an easy decision for me to make. I was lucky to be in a position to help someone else less fortunate than myself.”
After ten years in book publishing Nicholas Crace moved to the voluntary sector, and for seven years was responsible for publicity, publications and fund-raising for Voluntary Service Overseas. He left in 1974 to join MIND as Deputy Director, during a period of upheaval and changes in ways of dealing with the mentally ill. In 1978 he set up and ran for ten years REACH (Retired Executives Action Clearing-House), described at the time by the Evening Standard as “probably the most efficient charity in the country”. On retiring in 1989 he took on a number of voluntary jobs, including Treasurer of Basingstoke Voluntary Services, Treasurer of the Kingfisher Trust (a local day centre for the elderly then in Overton and now at Laverstoke), and helping to set up St. Michael’s Hospice, Basingstoke. For some years he took surplus books from the Overton Hospice shop to the library at Winchester Prison, and by arrangement with the Governor, took a party of twenty on a day visit to the prison.
Following his wife’s stroke in 2005 he was obliged to drop most of his voluntary work, but after her death in July 2011 he decided to put himself forward as a prospective living kidney donor.
D.o.b. 17.10.28 Married 1954 No children