How often do we hear our patients say that they wish there was something they could do when a loved one has a life-threatening illness?
How lucky was I then, when we were told that my partner of 15 years had End Stage Renal Failure and that even though we are not blood relations, that I could be tested as a potential kidney donor. I was further encouraged when I was told that at the unit my partner was being treated at, more than 50% of their live transplants were carried out on couples who had an emotional relationship, rather than being blood relations. We do happen to have the same blood group of A Rhesus Positive. Still, had this not been the case the transplant could still have gone ahead as long as the recipient does not have antibody levels greater than 256 in their blood which react against the donor’s blood. We were told samples of our blood “played nicely” together.
After a very full assessment of my renal function and general health, we were told that I was a suitable donor. Another couple we met along the way had different blood groups and the recipient required a number of plasma exchanges in the initial post-operative period. They are now 18 months post-transplant; both donor and recipient are very well.
I lost count of the number of people who thought it was amazing that we were such a perfect tissue match. This was not the case; we did not need to be a tissue match. Mismatched transplants between unrelated individuals are just as successful as well-matched related transplants. The whole process between diagnosis and transplant was completed in 18 weeks. The process could only be completed so quickly because of the efficiency of the Live Transplant Coordinator Nurses. We are now two months post-transplant and my partner is enjoying eating all of the previously banned foods and we are both looking forward to holidays abroad towards the end of next year.
The alternative to the transplant would have been him continuing to have haemodialysis for five hours, three times a-week until a cadaveric donation became available, possibly in 5-10 years time, during which time his general condition would have deteriorated. As a couple this would obviously have had a major impact on the quality of life for both of us.
I have been a nurse for more than 30 years and until going through this experience I had no idea about the potential for unrelated live donation. If nurses talk about this more, hopefully more potential donors will come forward. It is inappropriate for the patient with End Stage Kidney Disease to ask someone to donate a kidney; they are dependent on others making the offer. It really is a lovely feeling watching a loved one returning to health and knowing that I helped make it happen. And if the worst happens and it fails, our joint moto is “better to try and fail, than not to try at all”.
Sharon Cohen Principal Lecturer Pre-Registration Nursing, Buckinghamshire New University.