Sister's gift of life to Kay

SISTERS Kay Clifford and Kim Aldis used to argue when they were growing up.

Lizzie Parry

SISTERS Kay Clifford and Kim Aldis used to argue when they were growing up.

But when Kay's first kidney transplant failed she faced a life ruled by dialysis and years on the transplant list waiting for a suitable donor.

Having watched her older sister endure months of gruelling treatment once already was too much for Kim Aldis, of Winston, to bear.

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And that's when she stepped in and took the brave decision to donate one of her own kidneys.

The only hurdle she faced was persuading Mrs Clifford it was a good idea.

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Now two weeks after undergoing their “successful” operations the sisters are back at home recovering.

Since she was 12 years old Mrs Clifford, now 40, of Whitehorse Road, Capel St Mary, has spent her life in and out of hospital battling the kidney disease nephritis.

By the age of 23 both her kidneys failed and she was put on dialysis.

Four times a day, she had to hook up to a machine to help her body filter her blood, taking over the function of her failed kidneys.

After nine months of treatment in June 1995 Mrs Clifford, a teacher at Castle Hill Infants School, Ipswich, had her first kidney transplant, aged 24.

She said “out of the blue” one morning she received a call from Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge to say they had a new kidney for her, from a dead donor.

“I had no time to think about it,” she said. “In a way I think it was easier.

“Life was fine after the operation, I carried on as normal and my son Joseph was born in 2001.”

But as doctors had warned her, after 12 years, her third kidney failed and Mrs Clifford faced the “upsetting” prospect of being put back on dialysis and the transplant waiting list.

At the same time Mrs Aldis, 38, a teaching assistant at Debenham Pre-School, offered to go through the tests to see if she was a match for her sister.

But Mrs Clifford said she was adamant, she was against any friends or family donating their kidney.

“I did not want anybody to go through the operation,” she said. “Then I was thinking about Kim's future and her children's, what if she or they would need a kidney? But Kim bullied me for two years.

“She and the doctors always said a living donor would be better, they are 95% more successful than dead donors.

“When you have a dead donor you do not know the lifestyle of the donor and it is likely the organ has experienced some trauma so is not as strong to start with,” she added.

Eventually she gave in and agreed to the tests to establish if they were a match.

She said: “Then if I did become ill and needed a transplant then I knew she would be there as a back up.

“But once it all started rolling it did not stop.

“What really made me change my mind was everybody saying 'but you would do it for her'.”

In October last year the sisters started the lengthy process of tests to determine if they would be a match.

After blood tests, scans, appointments with councillors and legal adjudicators, on Tuesday, July 7 the pair underwent their operations in theatres, side-by-side at Addenbrookes Hospital.

Mrs Clifford said she “can't really put it into words” how it feels having gone through the process with her sister.

“It is quite emotional but in the end it is all worth it, it has been quite a journey to get here,” she said.

Mrs Aldis said there was no question about it, “it was an easy decision for me, I knew she would do the same for me.”

The sisters' father Rex Garrod said watching his daughters go through the process had been “wonderful”.

Mr Garrod, of Mickfield, famous for creating children's TV character Brum, had visited his GP to undergo tests to see if he was a suitable match for his eldest child.

But being over 60 his doctor informed him there was no chance he would even be considered.

He said: “When they were younger, they hated one another, they used to argue.

“But they are very close and seeing them go through this is just wonderful, it is unbelievable.”

In light of what she has been through, Mrs Clifford urged more people to get donor cards.

She said it is “vital” to help thousands of people in the country waiting for a transplant.

“It is so important to raise awareness, there are hundreds of people waiting on the list and a lot of people just are not aware,” she said.

She backed the idea of an opt-out system, whereby people are automatically considered a donor unless they register otherwise.

“If a person feels strongly against donating they are more likely to say something.

“The more donors there are the less time people on the list will have to wait, and the more opportunity they will have to live a normal life.”

She also thanked all the nurses at the CAPD dialysis unit at Ipswich Hospital for all their “brilliant” support and help over the years.

Nephritis is inflammation of one or both of the kidneys.

Mrs Clifford started showing typical symptoms of kidney problems, sore throats, extreme tiredness and a general feeling of being run down, when she was 12.

After visits to Ipswich Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, London she was diagnosed with the illness.

In severe cases, like that of Mrs Clifford, the condition develops into 'end-stage kidney disease' a patient is left in need of permanent dialysis or a kidney transplant.

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