A gift of life after EADT kidney appeal

IT was the best gift that Wendy Adams could wish for this Christmas.

Jonathan Barnes

IT was the best gift that Wendy Adams could wish for this Christmas.

The former Suffolk schoolgirl could not have hoped for a happier ending when she made an appeal in the EADT in August for a kidney donor.

She had been told her one kidney was failing and had started dialysis, which meant she was hooked up to a machine for nine hours every night.

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The 43-year-old, who now lives in Holland, knew her rare blood type made a suitable donor unlikely but asked for help to effectively save her life.

Thankfully for her, Suffolk man Tim Rowles read the appeal in the EADT and offered to donate one of his kidneys - despite not knowing or having any links to Wendy.

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The 46-year-old company boss, from Leiston, travelled to Wendy's Haarlem home and the two struck up a friendship.

Being the same rare blood type - Type O Negative - he was accepted as a donor and the two underwent a successful operation at a hospital in Leiden, near Amsterdam, on December 17.

Wendy, a former Ipswich High School for Girls pupil, was able to go home for Christmas and is looking forward to a new lease of life.

“I can't possibly express how I feel about it - it's too magnificent,” she said.

“This kidney could last me the rest of my life. Tim has given me something that is irreplaceable. It will make a big difference to my life. He's a hero.”

After Wendy's appeal was published, she said she received three emails - and one, from Tim, “sounded serious”.

“I told him 'please only do this if you are serious - I have been let down a couple of times before. Do whatever you have to do, speak to your family first' and I waited to hear back,” she said.

Tim, a father-of-one, said he read Wendy's story after his wife, Debbie, pointed out the appeal in the EADT.

“I have a donation culture - I've given blood and I'm on the Anthony Nolan bone marrow donor list,” he said.

“I saw she was Type O Negative - the same blood group as me, which is quite rare - so I thought 'she's not got a lot of chance'. I thought about it for about 10 minutes, sent an email, and that was it.

“It wasn't something I found difficult - I thought it was just a nice thing to do.”

After exchanging emails, Tim went over to Holland for donor match tests and scans to check he was well enough to undergo the operation and met up with Wendy and her partner, Gary Leatherland.

“We didn't want to keep it anonymous, he came to ours for dinner, the next day we went for donor tests and a month later we found we were a match,” said Wendy.

“He was worried that it might look like he was doing it for money but it was genuinely altruistic with no financial gain at all.” In fact, under Dutch law, it is prohibited for people to make money from organ donations.

Tim decided to undergo the operation shortly before Christmas to fit in with his work - he is managing director of Eurolabels at Saxstead, near Framlingham - and so he could still be at home with his family for the festive period.

Wendy said the operation, at the Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum, had been a “complete success” and she was able to leave hospital after just seven days, having originally been told she would be in for two weeks.

“There is chance my body could reject the kidney but everything has gone better than expected,” she said.

“I'm very excited to go home, and I'm extremely happy that Tim and my partner and I built up such a friendship.

“I think it's extremely courageous and incredibly unusual what he has done. Everybody at the hospital was flabbergasted about it. There are so many kidneys needed that I hope it could lead to a wave of new donors in the future.

“My transplant was so successful because Tim was a live donor. If someone has any intention to do something like that, it's just precious.”

But Tim refused to accept he did anything heroic. “I do feel good about it, but I'm not a touchy-feely, huggy sort of person. I'm much more practical than that. It's nice to do something for someone but, after striking up a friendship with Wendy, it became easier and easier to do it. It's a lot easier doing it for someone who deserves it.”

Wendy, who lived in Martlesham before her parents moved to the United States, said the transplant would enable her to live a normal life again. She was told she only had one kidney at age 15 and that she was suffer renal failure at some point, leading to the news she was dreading earlier this year.

She started dialysis in the summer and had to cut down her working hours, at an ecological clothing design factory, to just two days a week.

“I was hooked up to a machine for nine hours every night, and it was more than 12 hours with all the setting up.

“It meant I had no appetite, I was incredibly tired and had no social life, I couldn't go on holiday. The nurses at the hospital said that being on dialysis was like having one foot in the grave. Now I can start living my life again.

“I still feel tired after the operation but people tell me I look really good. I can't travel for six months but after that I intend to go on a fantastic holiday. I'm very excited. I really do believe in human kindness.”

Tim, who enjoyed Christmas at home with Debbie and his 17-year-old daughter Alexandra, said he hoped the transplant could raise awareness of the chronic need for new donors.

“I hope it will promote the fact that you can give a kidney while you're alive and also the importance of joining the organ register,” he said.

“There just isn't enough education for people out there. Lots of people would do what have I have done - but they just don't realise they can do it.”

MORE than 160 people are waiting for a kidney transplant in Suffolk and north Essex alone.

Kidney patients make up the vast majority of the 186 people currently waiting for transplants in the local region - but NHS bosses said there was a “chronic shortage” of donors.

Since April of last year, nine people died while waiting for an organ transplant.

The NHS Blood and Transplant Service has appealed for more people to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

In Suffolk and north Essex (CO and CM postcodes) - there are 462,388 people signed up to the register, but this is only about a quarter of the total population of the area.

Bosses said donors could make “a huge difference” to the lives of those waiting for a transplant.

They said in the past eight months, 82 people had benefitted from life-saving organ transplants, including: 53 kidneys; one kidney/pancreas; three hearts; five lungs and 20 liver.

Meanwhile, a further 47 people have had their sight restored or improved by a cornea/sclera graft.

A spokesman for the NHS Blood and Transplant Service said: “Whereas 90% of the population say they support organ donation and transplantation, only 26% have registered their wishes with the NHS Organ Donor Register.

“A single donor can give the gift of life to several people and restore the sight of two more.”

To register as a donor call the Organ Donor Register line on 0845 60 60 400, log on to the NHS Blood and Transplant website - www.organdonation.nhs.uk - or text the word 'GIVE' to 84118.

THERE are about 1,500 kidney transplants nationally in Britain, and about 10% of those are from live donors.

The National Kidney Foundation said the best chance of a match would come from a living relative, but non-relatives would also be considered, such as in Tim Rowles' case.

“The advantage of live kidney donation is that live donor organs are in better condition, and the kidney will be without blood for a very short time, thus increasing the chances of a successful transplant,” the foundation said.

“A healthy person can live a completely normal life with only one kidney - indeed, some people are born with only one kidney. If a kidney is removed, the remaining kidney increases slightly in size and capacity and can carry on the function of the two.

“Lifestyle is not affected and normal work can continue. Therefore, it is possible to remove one kidney from a healthy living person and transplant it into someone who needs it, with no ill effects on the donor other than the operation itself. Large studies have concluded that there does not appear to be any risk of serious problems from donating a kidney.”

For more information contact the National Kidney Foundation on 01909 544999 or go to www.kidney.org

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