Before teacher Rachel gave her spare kidney to someone she didn’t know, she already knew rather more than she wanted about the process. Her introduction came through a friend who worked on the dialysis ward in a Nottingham hospital and through whom she had learnt how unpleasant that is. But then, out of the blue, her husband suffered a massive stroke at work and she saw kidney donation at first hand. While her husband was briefly on life support, Rachel and her three grown-up children realised that this appalling experience could not only benefit two people in need, it gave a common focus to them all and, she says, held them together. They donated both her husband’s kidneys and, ‘For our family, it was massively helpful to have done it.’ They knew it was what he would have wanted.
A couple of years later, Rachel heard former jockey Richard Pitman being interviewed ten days after making his own donation. Rachel says he was so upbeat about it she immediately thought, ‘I could do that’ and contacted the Liverpool transplant centre. She was fascinated by the work-up process and when the surgeon offered her an operating slot in Christmas week – which he expected her to turn down – she jumped at it. ‘A great time to sit around being looked after and eating chocolates!’ Which she did! Were her family supportive? Her youngest suggested she might limit herself to giving blood; the others rallied to the cause when – as scientists – they had researched the risks and satisfied themselves that they were minimal. But afterwards, she was amused to see the careful arrangements made for a kidney recipient’s discharge; when her son collected her, he had no compunction about getting her to cross a six-lane road to the car park. Quite a contrast! She hasn’t heard from her recipient directly but knows that the transplant was a success. For her, that’s enough.
Rachel was delighted when the annual Transplant Games were held in Liverpool, her adopted city, in 2016 and she joined the impressive opening ceremony with a group of donor families and live donors from Give A Kidney. To her surprise, a huge fuss was made of them when they entered the stadium – real VIP treatment – and the sporting kidney recipients made them feel special.