Annabel - Interview 28
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Annabel donated one of her kidneys to a friend in 2007, when she was 60. She knew that her friend had polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition characterised by multiple cysts in both kidneys. Being a health writer, she was also aware that people can live healthy lives with just one kidney.
At a party, when the conversation arose, Annabel half-jokingly mentioned to her friend that she could donate one of her kidneys to him. His wife was not a compatible match and his three children were unsuitable because the disease was genetic. Later, Annabel discussed it more seriously with her friend and her own family, and both Annabel and her friend decided to have tests to find out whether she’d be a suitable donor. Her two daughters admired her decision but were also anxious about her. Her husband, a GP, was supportive and could answer some of the medical questions she had.
Annabel said the tests and waiting for results took much longer than she’d expected – over a year – but they showed that she was a compatible match. She was re-tested on one occasion as doctors thought there could be a problem, but this turned out to be nothing.
In October 2007, Annabel had surgery to remove one of her kidneys. She felt nervous beforehand in case there were complications brought on by the general anaesthetic. In total, she spent about three days in hospital and had five weeks off work to recover.
Annabel recovered well and now has annual follow-up appointments. Back at work, she was surprised by the reactions of her colleagues. She said, ‘It was wonderful coming back to work because I hadn’t told many people. I’d told a couple of people beforehand, but people heard about it. And everybody was so lovely and warm about it when I got back, and people kept giving me hugs and kisses and, you know, champagne. And it was very, very nice. People were quite moved by it. And it does make you feel very good because it’s such a useful thing to do.’
After a few problems with infections and a prostate problem, Annabel’s friend was also fit and well. He and his wife have since travelled to America. Annabel said she receives flowers from him annually on the day of the operation.
Shortly after her recovery, Annabel wrote an article for the British Medical Journal about her experience of living kidney donation. Later, she and her friend featured in the Daily Mail and their story was published. Annabel is now involved in setting up a group that aims to raise awareness of living kidney donation' www.giveakidney.org.uk
Annabels friend had a few complications after surgery but is now well. He has travelled a lot...
The kidney started working very well and his creatinine level started improving hugely. But he did get an infection and I think he had to go back in hospital for the first infection. And then I think a few weeks later he might have got a second one. But the kidney was functioning. It was just he got one or two of these nasty little complications. And then actually, funnily enough, I think he got another complication which I think was just an enlarged prostate. And eventually he had to have his prostate fixed. But that was all fine and he’s fit and well now.
And the operation was 2007, and in 2010 he and his wife had both retired and they went on a wonderful round the world trip to Yosemite and California. And then they flew to see his sister in New Zealand, who’s also got polycystic kidney disease, so couldn’t give her kidney. And to Australia. And so that made me feel good because, I think if he’d been on dialysis, then there’s no way he could have done that. So that was a lovely feeling.
And we’ve had a good relationship with, I don’t see them all that much. We were very close when we were younger because our kids played together. But they live a few streets away from me and I see them from time to time. And always on the anniversary of the operation they give me some flowers, and I know they’re very grateful.
But it hasn’t made our relationship awkward. I’ve been asked by some people, “Does it make your relationship awkward?” Well it doesn’t really. I mean, if I was seeing them constantly, which I don’t know, but I don’t see them very often. And when I do, we get on fine, great.
I saw them at some Christmas parties recently, and it’s been very, very satisfactory from that point of view. It’s been lovely. And their kids have been very sweet to me as well. One of them said, “Oh I can’t tell you how grateful I am. My Dad’s got a twinkle back in his eye.” And he’d become very, very, very tired and lethargic in the time leading up to it. And so that was very nice. One of their kids is getting married in April and it’s nice that her Dad will be fit and well for the wedding.
Annabel wrote about her experience for a medical journal and it was featured in a national...
About six months after the operation, I decided to write about it. Because I work for the British Medical Journal I decided to write a piece for that, a section called “A patient’s journey.” So I wrote about it for that. A pretty serious piece and, whenever they do these ‘patients journey’, they also always have the surgeon or the doctor giving his view, his or her view, of the procedure. So we did that. And that appeared.
But it was actually press released and the Daily Mail saw it and rang me up and said would I be prepared to write it for the Daily Mail, a version of it but a slightly more emotional version as they wanted a bit more of a, you know, “Were you worried?” and things. So I did write a, it wasn’t really that different to be honest, but I did write a slightly more personal piece for the Daily Mail.
I showed the article to [my friend] and [her husband] and said, “Is that alright?” I’d changed their names to John and Mary or something, but they said no, they didn’t want to be called John and Mary. They’d rather be called by their actual names. So we put their real name in it, and then actually the Daily Mail also said, “Would you consider having a photograph taken with [my friend]?” So we did; we had a photograph taken and that was quite nice.
Obviously it’s a good thing in lots of ways, because then people realise that you can do it and that, you live to tell the tale and feel fit and well afterwards. And that it’s not a big deal. It is quite a big deal, but that it’s not, it doesn’t have any long term effects, other than good ones.
Annabel knew that one kidney was enough to live healthily on. When she found out that a friend...
I knew my friend [friend’s name] husband, [name], had polycystic kidney disease and I knew he was going to require a kidney. I also knew, because I’d been a health writer for a long time, I also knew you could live perfectly well with one kidney because I’d written about it previously. But I didn’t know that [my friend] had had some tests and had been, the doctors had discovered she wasn’t a good match for [my friend].
So it started at a party actually where I was chatting to [my friend’s husband] and [my friend]. They were telling me that [my friend] wasn’t a good match and that their three children wouldn’t be suitable because polycystic kidney disease is inherited, so it’s conceivable that one of the kids would have it.
So, basically, we were talking and I said, “Well,” I said really half-jokingly, “Oh well you can have one of mine if you like.” Because I knew that you could live perfectly well with one. And I’m fit and well. But it was really quite a light hearted, off-hand remark to start off with.
But then I did start thinking about it and I thought about it quite seriously, because I thought to myself well, it’s quite a big thing to do. He said, “Well I don’t know what to say, Annabel.” And I don’t think he thought I was serious.
But anyway we got to talking about it a few weeks and a few months later. And I said I was serious. And I talked to my husband, who’s a GP, and asked him what he thought. And he thought that it sounded alright. I mean it’s not something that you have to leap into very precipitately because you know that you’re going to be checked out at huge length anyway. And so that even if you volunteer, or first of all when you volunteer you don’t know whether you’re going to be a good match or not.
Annabel described what happened at the hospital. She had some tests the night before. After...
The night before they check you out in the usual way, your temperature and all that sort of thing. And the next morning you’re not allowed to eat anything as usual. And you’re wheeled down and then they put you under, which is quite nice drifting off.
And when you come round, obviously you feel a bit disorientated. You look round and think “Where on earth am I?” But quite soon you realise where you are, and then you’re wheeled up to the ward. And the nurses usually rally round and are very nice.
And then not long after getting back to the ward, my husband was able to come and see me and I felt fine. I don’t think I could eat that day. I’m sure I wasn’t allowed to eat that day.
And they give you pain relief that you can administer yourself. You press a little button. And they’re very good about that, in the sense that they don’t make you feel that you have to be almost screaming with pain or anything before…In fact they encourage you not to, so I think I used about the average amount. I don’t think I used particularly huge amounts or particularly low amounts. But I did press it and I wasn’t in much, I cannot say I had much pain.
I think that evening when my daughter, one of my daughters came with my husband, I must have perhaps had slightly more morphine than perhaps I should have done because apparently I was a bit incoherent. And, as they left, my daughter said, “I think we’ve got to get her off the morphine, she’s talking gibberish.” But I think that was probably just the second day. And then by the next day I was off the morphine I think in a couple of days.
And it is difficult getting out of bed the first time and going to the toilet and all that. But it’s really not very uncomfortable and the nurses were very kind.
Annabel had a small hernia since the surgery, but it never became a problem. She ignores it now....
There was one thing, I think I’ve got a very slight tiny little hernia. I’ve got a little lump underneath one of my tiny little scars. And I’ve had it felt by both my husband and a couple of doctors who’ve said, “Well, it does seem as if it might be a hernia. We could do something about it if it develops, if it becomes a problem.” But it never has become a problem, and I just ignore it now. I’ve had no other side effects at all. And I’ve been fit and well. I’ve had my creatinine levels checked and they’re fine. So I can’t think of any downside to it.
Annabel took the time off work as sick pay. She needed to have two certificates as evidence of...
I was very lucky because I had gone to the HR department, I don’t know, six months before probably to say I’m going to do this. And to see if I can have time off work, and they had said, “Yes,” very definitely, that was fine.
And I had to get, when I left hospital you have to get a sort of certificate to show that you’ve been an in-patient and so forth. I think you have to get two certificates really. I think you get one from the hospital and I get one from the GP. But I got those and produced them and there was no, I was lucky because I’m an employee and there was no question of docking me any pay. And it was just given to me as sick pay.
Well I mean it was treated as if I’d been ill, and so although it was voluntary, it was a self-inflicted illness, they take any money from my pay. And so, no, I didn’t lose any money, which was useful.
If I’d have been a freelance journalist or something, I don’t think I would have, well I don’t know whether I would have done it. But there would have been serious implications, if you’re losing six or seven weeks pay, it would have been.