Juliette: Donating a kidney seemed a natural step after being a blood donor for so long

I work as a Research Manager in a large London university. I have been a blood donor since I was 17 and participate in many research trials at work and I have always enjoyed helping people in this way. It felt very natural to enquire about altruistic donation. In fact, quite a few people were not very surprised when I told them I was doing it! I did consider waiting a few years, but after some consideration, I decided that right now was a good time for me – I had no dependents to look after during the recovery process and was able to work from home, instead of rushing back to the office.

From my initial enquiry, the whole process took just under nine months. I found the whole work up and tests incredibly interesting and I feel quite the nephrology expert now! Tests included blood and urine tests; an ultrasound; MRI scan; ECG test; chest x-ray; and glomerular filtration rate test. I also had a telephone consultation with a psychiatrist and an interview with a representative from the Human Tissue Authority.

During the test checking how evenly my kidneys worked, the team was unsure if I would be able to continue – the test showed that my right kidney did over 60% of the work. This is usually a reason that donation cannot go ahead. However, the team decided to perform the MRI scan, to see if this revealed any reason for my left kidney being less strong. The test showed that the kidney was fine anatomically and would be suitable for donation, though this would mean I was classified as a ‘complex donor’. Luckily however, I was matched in my first run in January, to go into the kidney sharing scheme.

It was then a wait for a suitable surgery date. I found out two weeks before it was scheduled – it then felt very real, arranging sick leave with work and letting friends and family know the date. Yet this anxiety calmed in the days before my surgery, and I felt mentally prepared and fully supported on the morning of the surgery. I was staying with family who live close to the hospital – unfortunately in a case of spectacularly bad timing, my parents were on a flight whilst I was in theatre! I imagine that is not a flight they will remember fondly…

It was my first time staying in hospital and I was looked after very well, from the staff that took an inventory of the belongings on arrival, to the anaesthetist that reassured me on having general anaesthetic for the first time. I woke up a little confused, but luckily not in a huge amount of pain. I stayed in hospital for just one night. I was informed that the kidney had started working straight away in the recipient, which was a huge relief.

I was told my kidney was highly admired when it was removed which was a lovely compliment!

The first week out of hospital was tiring, and I struggled with a lot of bloating due to the strong painkillers, but once I was on light painkillers only, I felt much better. I started back at work two weeks after the surgery, but working from home only so I could rest when needed, and on shorter hours.

I had hand-assisted laparoscopy surgery: two small incisions on my left hip and a slightly larger one in the middle of my abdomen. They have all healed well – though not having a bath for two weeks was tough! I took a daily photo to check they were healing OK, and it is fascinating to look back and see how the body heals in such a short space of time.

My friends, family and colleagues were incredibly helpful, kind and generous, and I have really appreciated how supportive people were during my recovery. People have been really interested in the process. It’s been great being able to bring more awareness about non-directed donation. My living donor coordinator passed on a message from the recipient the day after the surgery to say thank you – that was lovely to receive, and I am so pleased that everything went to plan. I have even more respect and admiration for the coordinators, nurses, doctors and surgeons who make transplants possible.

For me, the experience has been extremely positive – the donor team were incredible, always keeping me well informed and easy to contact when I had queries.

They always made sure I had even the smallest bit of information, so that I was able to make a considered and informed decision. Everyone at the hospital was excellent during my stay. I have also learnt a lot about myself and my own health as well – and would do it again in a heartbeat (if I had another kidney to spare!)

I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest to get in touch with their local living donor team – you are never under any obligation to go through with the donation, but if you decide to go ahead, you won’t regret it.