Dr Chris Burns-Cox, a consultant physician from Gloucestershire, donated a kidney in 2010 at the age of 72.
I had been a doctor for 50 years and still felt a pity for the suffering of mankind – but also was aware how enormously fortunate I had been in my own good health.
These were good reasons for looking around for what else I could do to be of use and ease a little suffering. Giving a kidney to a stranger anonymously had been discussed in the newspapers, so I rang the local transplant unit to find out more.
What could be the downside to giving a kidney? Worst was the thought of the effect on my family of disability or death from the operation, but thankfully the chance of this seemed about equivalent to the hazard of crossing a busy road. What if my remaining kidney were to be damaged in future? This was also very unlikely, as I no longer had physically dangerous hobbies. It seemed that people who donated a kidney tended to live longer than the general population.
At the hospital I was cautiously welcomed by the transplant team: the coordinator, surgeon and physician and those who carried out all the tests of my general and kidney health. I was flattered that they did not quibble at my age of 72. I was well aware that doctors are fallible and things can and do go wrong, but I trusted these people, who all had excellent motivation and skills.
At no time was I under any pressure to go through with the donation. I was repeatedly told that I could change my mind at any time and that I did not have to give a reason. My wife and three children were either neutral or clearly positive about the donation, and it shows how skilful they are in that there has never been any stress or friction on the subject.
After interesting and not unpleasant tests over five months, I was given a date to come in for the operation. This lasted three hours, and I awoke in my bed with little discomfort and a gadget enabling me to control my dose of painkiller. Amazingly, an hour later the surgeon came and told me that what had been my kidney was working very well in someone else.
I spent two days in hospital, then rather gingerly went home. I was back to normal after a few weeks. Whilst I was a bit fragile for a week or two, I never felt as if I had been through major surgery. I suspect this was due to the operation being by the keyhole technique, with a small incision.
I still do not know who received my kidney, and I do not want to know unless it were to be of help to him. The coordinator transmitted a message of thanks and good cheer from him. He is apparently back to a normal life, having been increasingly run down on dialysis.
I must praise the National Health Service and its relevant quangos that made this donation possible. What an amazing system, and there was no mention of money at any time – pure benevolence. It has been suggested that until people are paid to donate organs, there will always be a shortage. I find this attitude repugnant, as it appeals to the worst in human nature. There always will be people who want to help others if given the chance. Now that altruistic anonymous kidney donation is possible, it is the donors’ duty to inform and encourage others to do likewise.
I am confident that when the public realises that donation is no big deal for the donor – but a really enormous one for the recipient – many will join the altruistic donors’ club, Give a Kidney – One’s Enough. If we campaign effectively enough for this, the days of suffering and dying on a kidney transplant waiting list will be over. Humans will again show that we can not only torture, exploit and kill but, amazingly, save each other.
I wish I had another spare kidney to donate.