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Life support: How a donor's generosity gave the chance of life to another

PUBLISHED: 19:30 20 March 2019

Heart to heart: Mrs Sawyer was given this information about the donor by a nurse at the hospital. Pictures: ESNEFT

Heart to heart: Mrs Sawyer was given this information about the donor by a nurse at the hospital. Pictures: ESNEFT

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One year ago, Nick Sawyer woke up to a phone call. That phone call saved his life.

Mr Sawyer, who also lives with MS, had a kidney that grew to the size of a rugby ball. Pictures: ESNEFTMr Sawyer, who also lives with MS, had a kidney that grew to the size of a rugby ball. Pictures: ESNEFT

Today, a year on from the phone call, he has thanked the renal unit team at Colchester Hospital for their care and support on his journey towards his kidney transplant.

On 19 March last year at 2am, the 52-year-old was told a donor had been found. After two years on dialysis, plans for his life-changing kidney transplant were under way.

After years of feeling extremely unwell, Mr Sawyer was diagnosed with polycystic kidneys in June 2000. Kidney disease runs in his family, with his mother, sisters and aunt all suffering from the condition.

Another crutch was added to his story at the age of just 33, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

New kidney recipient Nick Sawyer with wife Donna. Pictures: ESNEFTNew kidney recipient Nick Sawyer with wife Donna. Pictures: ESNEFT

As his condition worsened, the cysts in his kidneys continued to grow – to the size of rugby balls – putting his organs under extreme pressure. He later had one kidney surgically removed, weighing 7lb 5oz - which was heavier than his step grand-daughter, who was born shortly after surgery.

A healthy kidney is usually the size of a fist.

It was after surgery that he started having kidney dialysis at the primary care centre in Colchester.

Following the early morning wake-up call from the hospital, he and wife Donna, from Colchester, made their way to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Just 22 hours later, he had the life-altering operation.

Remembering the phone call, Mr Sawyer said: “I was buzzing, we were smiling and laughing and couldn’t stop the happiness we felt.”

The moment of elation, however also came with a degree of sadness as the reality behind organ donation began to sink in.

Mrs Sawyer said: “It creeps in that someone has lost their life and you’re aware the whole time someone else had passed in order to allow my husband to live. That’s the tragedy in all this and it brings you down to earth.”

Anonymity of organ donors is of paramount importance, so the couple do not know much about the person who gave him life. They know the donor was a man in his early 30s, and his heart was still beating due to being on life support. Those details were written on a small heart-shaped piece of paper by a nurse which Mrs Sawyer always keeps with her as a reminder of the gift they were given that day.

She said: “The kidney has not done anything except excel in Nick’s body – that’s very unusual – he’s not had to have any dialysis. It’s a real success story.”

Despite the struggles his illnesses have brought, the couple – who both suffer from multiple sclerosis – continue to keep a positive outlook on their situation.

Mrs Sawyer said: “There’s been some really difficult challenges along the way, but the staff at the Renal Unit are the most dedicated, friendly, kind and caring team. They go above and beyond and they work so hard. We’re really grateful to the whole team, they keep everyone’s morale up.

“It becomes like a family, you get involved with the staff and get to know other patients and their families. You end up seeing people at the dialysis unit more than you do your own family. We’re still in contact with some of the friends we’ve made there.”

Nick’s diet significantly changed following the major operation, but to him – the biggest change of all was no longer attending dialysis sessions three times a week.

He said: “I feel so much better in myself now, I was falling asleep all the time and was so weak. The weakness in my kidneys made my multiple sclerosis significantly worse and the neurologist worried about how long that could carry on for.”

Mrs Sawyer said: “We do miss it (the dialysis unit), we miss the people and the regularity of it. You think you won’t, but you do. We had all this time to fill so we started going to the cinema.

“It becomes like a family, you get involved with the staff and get to know other patients and their families. You end up seeing people at the dialysis unit more than you do your own family. We’re still in contact with some of the friends we’ve made there.”

Mr Sawyer, who has recovered remarkably well, will remain on anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life to ensure his body doesn’t reject the kidney, and goes for check-ups at Addenbrooke’s every two months. But most important of all to the couple – he’s back to being a smiling and happy man.

Following his amazing recovery, Mr Sawyer said simply: “Staying positive is key.”

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