“The risks are less than those of mountaineering or microlight flying.”
Paul van den Bosch, GP, Surrey, and member of the steering committee of Give a Kidney – one’s enough, gave a kidney in 2008, at the age of 53.
I still find it difficult to say exactly why or when I decided to look into the possibility of donating a kidney. My first job as a junior doctor in hospital in the 70’s was on a renal ward, and while dialysis was obviously life saving it was also very clear that it was far from an ideal treatment. Over the years as a GP I have come across many people with kidney disease, but perhaps the turning point came when I asked a man about my own age about the impact that having a transplant had made. “It’s like winning the lottery,” he said, and then hesitated a moment before adding, “No, better than that, because no amount of money could have made me feel well again.”
Aside from willingness on my part, practical issues and the opinions of my family needed to be considered. I have reached an age where my children are more independent and old enough to understand and discuss the decision. My wife, who is also medical, was very supportive, and my work colleagues were flexible.
NHS Blood and Transplant and the Human Tissue Authority have excellent websites, so I was reasonably well informed by the time I got in touch with a local transplant co-ordinator. The whole assessment process was quite straightforward but time consuming, and I found this more irksome than any other aspect. I questioned the necessity for a full psychiatric evaluation. My tolerant co-ordinator persuaded me that it had to be done, even though I am still not entirely convinced. I know that there are significant risks associated with donation, but they are not huge and certainly less than the risks of mountaineering or microlight flying. They are probably less than the risks taken by my brother-in-law, who recently started riding a large motorbike. He did not have to undergo a psychiatric interview – although his wife might have thought it appropriate!
My first admission ended with a last minute cancellation because my recipient became ill, but on the second occasion all went according to plan. The post-operative period was perhaps more painful than I had expected, but there were no complications. I went home 48 hours after my laparoscopic nephrectomy and was back at my desk two weeks later. I am not sure that I am a good patient, but pushing the system and being self employed probably helped me return to normal quickly, although thorough assessment, high-quality surgery and excellent aftercare were clearly the most important factors. Four months on, I have just returned from a cycling holiday and have a scar, but no other signs or symptoms.
My only regret is that I am not in a position to donate another kidney. While the whole process has its inconvenience, discomfort and risk, these are far outweighed by the benefits. I am very glad to have heard that my recipient, whom I have never met, is doing well, but the benefits are mine as well as hers. I know it is not something everyone would wish or be able to do, but there are few actions one can take in life that are so unequivocally useful. It is worth a thought.