Life Stories

Georgia – Altruistic Donor #HeroesOfTransplantation

2 September 2023

Why would you donate a kidney to a stranger? My answer usually starts with “Why not?” but that doesn’t answer a lot unless you’re also someone who wants to or has donated a kidney to someone, especially a stranger.

Why would you donate a kidney to a stranger? My answer usually starts with “Why not?” but that doesn’t answer a lot unless you’re also someone who wants to or has donated a kidney to someone, especially a stranger. I think most people understand the motivation for donating to a loved one, you see the need and you see the results. Altruistic donation is where you don’t know your recipient and most likely never will. 

For me I had a few reasons for wanting to donate. Organ donation and transplant has been part of my life since juniors. My cousin Jamie had two liver transplants which gave him an extra twenty years of life. He passed away from heart failure and if any donation could have saved him I’d have hoped someone would have done so. Because of Jamie I have volunteered with Live Life Give Life since 2014, I speak in schools and community groups about organ donation and fundraise to help improve transplant outcomes. I was also lucky enough in 2012, during my nurse training, to be allocated a placement on the only all-solid organ transplant unit in Europe, taking care of heart, lung, kidney, pancreas, and islet recipients and those with LVAD heart pumps. I’ve never left. I am so fortunate to see every single day what organ donation can do. 

I’m an avid supporter and promoter of organ donation, but very few of us will die in a way that means we can donate our organs (you need to die on a ventilator, usually in an intensive care unit). So I can promote organ donation all I like but the chances are I won’t be an organ donor when I die, this way I’m certain I’ve truly helped where I can. 

How do you go about donating an organ as a living donor?

Firstly you make contact with your nearest transplant centre. You will be assigned a living donor coordinator, they are separate from deceased donor coordinators and recipient ones. Early questionnaires can pick out any major issues that would rule you out as a donor and then there are a lot of medical and blood tests.

The process is simple but can be very long. There is a huge number of tests and at every stage you are reminded of the risks involved and that you can stop at any time, as realistically there are no benefits at all to being an altruistic donor (apart from feeling good knowing you’ve saved someone’s life!). All the tests make sure you have good enough kidney function to donate and that donation is as low a risk as possible to you now and in the future. Generally those who are selected to donate have a higher life expectancy than the general population. Most altruistic donors are first matched against the waiting list to see if they are a match for anyone who is hard to match or who has waited a long time, if not they go into the national kidney sharing scheme to match and start a chain of donations, this is what I did.

The actual operation to remove a kidney, despite being mostly keyhole, is major surgery and most centres require at least a couple of days in hospital and complications could make the stay longer. Recovery time is 6 to 12 weeks. For me as nurse with a physical job it will be 12 weeks off work and away from my main hobby of running while my body heals properly. I’m already recovering well and starting to rehabilitate though I did get readmitted which was a setback. I do not feel any different a few weeks later, except more tired for now; obviously to begin with there is pain, sickness and bloating and it can be uncomfortable moving around to begin with. My personal risk of kidney disease is slightly higher than with 2 kidneys but lower than average and for women there is a slightly higher risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy.

Would I do it again if I could? Yes in a heartbeat! You can never be 100% prepared for something and I had a set back with a complication and time back in hospital. Despite that, knowing my kidney went to someone who needed it makes it all worthwhile. I can’t wait to get back to running and set some ‘one kidney personal bests’ and then I hope some overall PBs too!

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