“The year 2022 sees a milestone in life as my kidney transplant becomes 40 years old, maybe now is a good time to follow that journey.

My journey into the land of renal units started in September 1979 at the Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield at the age of 19. After numerous tests the consultant arranged to see me and Mum and Dad on a Sunday morning, there to be told my kidneys were not really a great deal of good – one pretty much a non-starter and the other in imminent danger of ceasing to function, all apparently part and parcel of the congenital problem. In the medical terminology of the time I was in ‘End Stage Renal Failure’. I hung on for a few more months consuming copious quantities of tablets, and during that time my fistula was sorted ready for the inevitable start of dialysis. Then in January 1980 haemodialysis started at the Lodge Moor Hospital in Sheffield, three times a week for 4 hours at a time. At that time on my ‘Monday, Wednesday, Friday’ shift at Lodge Moor, the majority of my fellow patients were doing 6 hours per session. Being a very small 19 year old I only needed 4 hours, this was a highly regarded and envied bonus by my fellow patients on the ward.   

The dialysis equipment way back in 1979 consisted of a machine pretty much the size of a large washing machine with the dialysis pump being a separate entity situated on the top of the machine. The artificial kidney was a kiil dialyser, the photograph I submitted for this article was taken on my 21st Birthday, and was my home dialysis set up, but it does give an idea of the size of both the machine and the kiil dialyser, (the blue bit!). Once a week the kiil had to be totally dismantled and rebuilt.  Once I was at home, this particular task fell to my father and brother, it was a real family affair.   

During training at Lodge Moor, I got the hang of ‘needling’ quite quickly and most of the time preferred to do it myself, I considered I knew my veins better than the nurses did. From the start it had been decided that I was an ideal candidate for home haemodialysis and an existing extension to the house suddenly acquired an extra storey to house the necessary equipment, forever afterwards referred to as the ‘Dialysis Room’. There began a new sense of freedom for at that time we lived 35 miles away from Sheffield. Although dialysis became a huge part of life, I can truthfully say I never ‘got used’ to it. With the exception of a few minor mishaps, one of which was a burst water softener and a rather soggy house, dialysis carried on for 2 years and 8 months, and they are all carefully noted in my dialysis file. The file is a bit dog eared and yellowing now, but is a marvellous record of what went on during those sessions. My weight back at the start of 1980 was just 35 kilograms, thankfully it’s a little more these days.

So my kidney journey then reached September 1982 and with it came ‘the call’. It happened late on the evening of 29th September 1982. We were asked if we could be at Sheffield within the hour… as if we wouldn’t! A frantic round of phone calls went on, not least of which was to our friend who lived at the top of our lane. She then proceeded, with all haste, to drive down the lane in night dress and slippers so that she could stay with my younger brother.  The spookiest part of that night was the telephone call made to my sister, at the time living and working in London, she was waiting by the telephone that night knowing it was going to ring and what it would be ringing for…

The transplant was performed on 30th September 1982, a Thursday. I don’t recall a great deal of the next couple of days, but I do vividly recall the Sunday morning where suddenly, as if by magic, I felt totally different. The transplanted kidney had started to work, and by the time I got visitors later that day, I was sitting in a sterile chair chatting to them via an intercom, healthily pink in colour as oppose to the dull yellow ‘Lodge Moor Sun Tan’ look that they were so used to seeing. They were not allowed in the room, and for the first few days I was not allowed out of the room. However, in due course I was able to go out of the room to sit in a lounge/waiting room with whoever had come to see me. The dialysis diet had been very restrictive, and at the time if anyone asked what I’d like to eat it was always smoky bacon crisps. These had been forbidden on dialysis and they were my favourite… I’m still as easy to please! A few days after the transplant, I developed a ‘Plumbing Problem’, a very technical medical term covering the fact that one of the connecting tubes had come adrift and was leaking into my abdominal cavity. So surgery time again to fix the plumbing problem, the surgeon was quite pleased to have a second look at his handiwork. I remained in hospital for around a  month and then there was weeks of isolation at home after being discharged. The period of isolation came to a marvellous end on Christmas Eve 1982 when we attended, as a whole family, the Midnight Mass in our local Church. There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the place, and the Midnight service is still a very special time for me.

From that point on, there has been no looking back. Clinic appointments gradually lessened until as now, I have an appointment at Sheffield every 6 months. Obviously, life hasn’t all been plain sailing, the drug regime is harsh and I now find that I take drugs to counteract the side effects of the transplant drugs, but this seems a small price to pay. My transplant drugs are deemed to be from the ‘old’ days of transplants, I take azathioprine and prednisolone.

Well, 40 years on, we ask is there life after a transplant? Yes, there is one and it’s basically what you make of it. As part of a Business Studies course undertaken after my transplant, I had to do six weeks work experience. By this time we were living in a hamlet just south of Lincoln, and I was lucky enough to be taken on for my work experience by a firm of Chartered Accountants in Lincoln.  I must have proved myself during that time as towards the end of my six weeks I was asked if I would like to remain with them on a permanent basis.  I jumped at the chance, as surprisingly, I had found I enjoyed and was quite adept at Accountancy. I recently retired from the accountancy profession having worked for that same firm for almost 37 years.

This is really a very short and simple story of life with kidney failure. There have been moments of joy, moments of sadness, but throughout it all and no matter what life threw at me, I had a family who refused to let go and walked every inch with me. We are much depleted in numbers these days from those long-ago dialysis days. So, a final salute needs to go to ‘absent family’, we will meet again.”