I was born with a defective kidney and all my life I have experienced kidney problems, and in May 1990, aged 25, I had my kidney removed.

Fast forward 28 years to 2018 and I began to have serious renal problems. I was told that I would need dialysis and a kidney transplant some time soon.

Later that year, and the weekend before Christmas, my eGFR (estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate) dropped and I was admitted to hospital where I had two sessions of dialysis. I returned home on Christmas Eve. My medication was adjusted and regular consultations continued.

In August 2019, I had a fistula fitted, having been told that dialysis would probably be required within the next six months. I would need to be prepared for a transplant. The necessary tests were carried out and all the while I was experiencing the usual effects of chronic kidney disease, such as fluid retention leading to breathlessness, fatigue and feeling constantly cold.

COVID-19

In March this year (2020), I was advised by my GP to isolate, and the only time I should go anywhere was for medical appointments. At least I was placed on the priority list for supermarket deliveries, so between that, our neighbours, friends and family, we lived pretty well.

Then, in May, a friend sent me a link to an article about the transplant unit at Belfast City Hospital that was carrying out kidney transplants. Although I was not yet on the transplant list, the article gave me hope. I decided to call the unit and I was told that they would get back to me.

The next 24 hours

11:00 a.m. - On the 20th May, I received a call from a transplant coordinator to tell me I had been activated on the list. I was ecstatic. I was told to always keep my phone charged and with me, same for my wife, Faith. I was also told to get a bag ready with everything I may need, for if and when I got the call.

I phoned Faith and told her my news, and she planned to go shopping the very next day to get everything I needed for my bag.

7:51 p.m. - My phone rang and it was Dr. McCaughan from the renal unit at Belfast City Hospital. She started to tell me about what happens when you get a transplant. At this point I went into the other room to find Faith. I put my phone on speaker and Dr. McCaughan told me that a kidney had become available and to make my way to Belfast City Hospital for 9:00 p.m. that night. Emotions were off the scale! I threw into a cabin-sized luggage case what I thought I might need and I called everyone who I had already called earlier that same day and told them my news. No-one could believe it.

9:00 p.m. -  Faith had to leave me at the door of the hospital as restrictions meant she was not allowed in. I was tested for COVID-19 followed by a variety of other tests and checks. If all was well, I would be transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital for the operation and return to Belfast City Hospital for recuperation.

11:30 p.m. - Following the tests I was transferred by taxi, and an hour later, I met my surgeon, Mr Tim Brown. He explained the kidney was due to arrive at 1:00 a.m. and the procedure should take place soon afterwards, once he had seen the organ - at this stage, there was still a chance it could be called off.

3:15 a.m. - I was wheeled into theatre and it felt like something from a science-fiction movie. The team were in what looked like hazmat suits due to the pandemic. I was shivering, either from my condition or fear. It didn't last long as the anaesthetic kicked in.

7:15 a.m. - Four hours later I regained consciousness and I knew there and then the kidney was working. For the first time in a long while, I felt comfortable. I wasn't sweating or cold, even though I was wearing the flimsy surgical gown.

"Out of the darkness of COVID-19, there is hope"


Five weeks on and things could not be better. I have been told that my new kidney is functioning at 100%. Since my transplant, my energy levels are amazing, my appetite is back to normal and I can wear shorts and a T-shirt in the house and garden!

I wrote this piece to highlight the importance of organ donation and making your loved ones aware of your wishes - it may make a difficult decision a little bit easier. Also, when you get activated on the transplant list, get your bag ready, immediately! You never know when you will get that life-changing call.

Thank you to the NHS for their work during the crisis, and to the doctors and nurses who have and continue to look after and support me. Also to Faith, for being there for me. Most of all, I want to thank the family of my donor, who, at a very emotional time, made a courageous and selfless decision. I will be forever grateful and think of them every single day.

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