I’ve got a specific memory of when it all began: I’m 15, playing rugby on my school team and we’re having a terrible game. I’ve lost my temper and now I’m being sent off the pitch. So I went home to Mum, who picked up on my foul mood straight away, because who knows you better? A hot meal, a sweet tea, and off to bed. But next thing I know, I’m being woken by Mum who’s in my room with a doctor by her side. “Don’t get angry,” she says, “but you’ve not been right for a while. You’re doing things in your sleep that are really worrying me.” “I’m diabetic!” I replied. Somehow I knew even before any tests had been done. The doctor conducts a test for sugar in my urine and that confirms it. He tells my mum that his machine read high so it must be over 23 and we need to get to the hospital immediately. When we get there it turns out my blood sugar is 47 and the doctors can’t believe I walked in!
So, fast-forward 16 years: I’m 31. I’m a typical bloke, rarely going to the doctor, convinced I’ve got it all under control. It’s been nearly a year by the time I show up, despite multiple calls urging me to visit, and now they don’t want to let me leave ... My situation is serious; I’m in diabetic kidney failure.
After five hours of tests at the hospital and having my situation explained to me, I know this is bad but it still hasn’t really sunk in. At my next appointment, we begin to discuss the operation that is available to me. I can have a kidney and pancreas transplant at the same time. I was feeling confident about the whole thing until they told me the size of the scar, then the severity of the situation really kicked in! It showed me how invasive the procedure was going to be. It was another hearty dose of reality and more to process.
I’m on the waiting list now and on the back-up waiting list too. This basically means that if the first person matched isn’t a good tissue match, I will be tested too. In the event that I am a better match, it could be me who receives the organs. I’ve been told that the waiting list is roughly three years and my kidneys will not last that long so I must go through all the dialysis options. I opted for the 10-hour overnight version.
By 24thDecember 2012 - my birthday - I had been on the waiting list for 18 months. I had yet to start dialysis but knew it was coming. Suddenly, I get the call to come to the hospital. My thoughts are all over the place: “Am I the primary? Is this it?” They couldn’t give me those details but insisted I must come. I found out later that I was the secondary and I wouldn’t have got the transplant. This has hit me hard and it pushes me to get my life in order - I’ll need money and time off so that after my surgery I will be able to take the time to recover.
Little did I know I wouldn’t have time to prepare these things. Four days later, I got the call at 7:30 am. I called my work and let them know I wouldn’t be in, and my girlfriend Angie and I drive up to Oxford in what was the longest, most panicky drive of my life. I’m imagining being rushed in, ER style, straight to the operating room. Not quite …
We get there and it’s all very relaxed and actually quite a long wait. Lots of tests have to be done to make sure I am a match. I’ve been in this silly gown for a fair few hours but now it’s time. I’m being wheeled to the operating room. Angie is beside herself and I’m assuring her everything is going to be okay. In hindsight, this was helpful as I didn’t have time to worry about myself.
The doctor is talking to me: “Take three deep breaths.” One breath … two breaths … three breaths … I’m still awake. “You’ve clearly got big lungs,” he says. Now I’m convinced it’s all going wrong. “Three more deep breaths please.” One breath … this isn’t going to work, something is going to …. I’m out.
I wake up in intensive care with a long, neat line from my pelvis, around my belly button, and up to just under my chest. I am officially a double organ recipient, with a new kidney and pancreas to match.
I feel great. I’m sat up, having my tea. I think, ‘this is going to be a breeze’. But then the morphine wears off …! I’ve lost nearly 2.5 stone, I’m on an IV drop due to hydration issues and I’ve never felt worse. Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had, double it, and then have it for eight days solid. One of the nurses, Vicky, is a godsend - tough as nails, but we have lots of laughs throughout my recovery. She fights my corner like it is her own.
It is a long recovery and we take it two weeks at a time. You could see and feel the improvement week by week. I have a constant reminder in the shape of a scar, but that fades in your mind; I even appreciate it. It shows not only what I’ve been through but is also a constant reminder of what someone else, someone I never met, was brave and kind enough to do for me.
Since the operation, my life has changed immensely. I no longer have to take insulin and my blood pressure is back to normal; my eyesight has even improved. I can feel my whole body working in sync and I feel better than ever. It’s like I was told, ‘you won’t realise how bad you were until you start to feel better.’
But the thing I am most grateful for is my son. Two years ago, Angie and I had our first child, Ethan, born on 19thFebruary 2016. It is hard to imagine that, without my donor, not only might I not be here, but my son, who I love more than anything, might not be either.
Every year on 28thDecember, the anniversary of my transplant, I’ve made it a tradition to get a steak and kidney pie and I think of my donor and their family. It’s bittersweet to think of how much I’ve gained from another family’s loss. I will always be grateful and live my life as best I can.
This year I’m running a triathlon. It’s only a novice one but it’s my very first. I wanted to challenge myself and raise awareness and funds for organ donation. It’s a cause that will always be close to my heart. I wouldn’t be here without my donor and I thank them every day.
If you’d like to support Mathew’s triathlon, his GoFundMe can be found below and all proceeds will benefit Live Life Give Life.