Tessa: As a Paediatric Doctor, knowing a child was part of the chain means so much to me

Paediatric Emergency Doctor and mother of three, Tessa, donated her kidney to a stranger last winter.

She admits that despite having sedated many patients, she was apprehensive about the operation but recovered well and ‘doesn’t feel any different living with just one kidney’.

More than 10 years ago, I listened to podcast called ‘Strangers’, which was about altruistic kidney donation in the USA. I thought, ‘I could do that’ and the idea grew from there. My family and I were living in Sydney at the time and I met briefly with the transplant team for an initial chat.

Shortly afterwards we decided to move back to the UK, so I shelved the idea. In 2019 we were settled, I had finished my medical training, had a permanent consultant job, and my kids were settled, so I decided to pursue the idea again and contacted the Royal Free Hospital.

The process was delayed by Covid-19, but I initially met with the team in Dec 2019 and I became a non-directed living kidney donor in Feb 2022. I was going to donate in Nov 2021, but sadly both my in-laws died within a few weeks of each other unexpectedly and so it wasn’t a good time for my family. I postponed it (even though I’d been matched in the sharing scheme), which I felt quite bad about, but it wouldn’t have been fair on my family.

The week before my operation, I was getting pretty stressed. It was my first ever operation and my first general anaesthetic. Even though I’ve sedated many, many patients and I know it’s fine, I became irrationally terrified of the anaesthetic. The night before I felt emotional – would I be okay? The morning was quick, the anaesthetist quickly reassured me and before I knew it, I was waking up.

The care I received from the transplant team was excellent and I have a new perspective now I’ve been a patient.

The first 2-3 weeks were pretty brutal. I had lots of pain – it hurt to sneeze, cough, or even laugh. I also had an intra-op complication which was unexpected but I guess that’s the reality of medical care. But after that my recovery sped up.

I know a child was one of the people in my chain. This means a huge amount to me as a paediatrician. I know very well what families go through with dialysis.

Anyone thinking about doing this, I would say ‘go for it’. It’s the best decision I have made.