Chris - Interview 32
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Chris donated a kidney altruistically to an anonymous recipient in 2010, when he was 72. A healthcare professional, Chris had always been keen to help reducing suffering. He also knew that it was possible to live a healthy life with only one kidney, and that non-directed (anonymous) living kidney donation had been successfully taking place for several years. After doing some research and talking to doctors, Chris was confident that the chances of anything going wrong were very slim.
Chris contacted his local transplant centre and was invited for an initial consultation with the specialist nurse [transplant coordinator]. He started having tests to see whether he would be a suitable donor. From the first consultation to surgery, it took six months. Once he knew he was suitable and healthy enough to donate, he was given an approximate date for surgery. He then emailed his three adult children and told them what he was planning to do. They all responded positively, and his wife also supported his decision.
The surgery went smoothly and, shortly afterwards, the consultant told Chris that the kidney he had donated was functioning very well in the recipient. About a month later, Chris received a letter from the recipient himself, who told him how much better he was feeling since the transplant. He had been on dialysis before then.
Chris was in hospital for about three days and was then discharged. He took it easy for the first week and said, by around week four, he was back to doing all his normal daily activities. He is now very well and has annual check-ups to monitor his blood pressure and kidney function.
Chris said he was grateful for the opportunity to donate and is a great believer in the principles of the NHS. He is keen on raising awareness of living kidney donation and was interviewed by his local newspaper. He is also involved in a new organisation that aims to raise awareness of living kidney donation' www.giveakidney.org.uk
Chris received a letter from the recipient, via the nurse, telling him how ill hed felt on...
Initially, I was told that it was functioning very well. They never told me who it was or whatever. But then I got a message about a month later from the person who had it, with his Christian name. Saying that he was feeling ever so much better because he’d been on dialysis for quite a long time and going downhill, getting less strong and getting more tired and whatever. And I think he’d just had, his first grandchild had just been born.
So I sent a message back, “Well I’m sure you’ll get, I’m glad you’ll really be able to enjoy your grandchild, and your grandchild will really be able to enjoy your company.” And I haven’t heard from him since then, other than that apparently he’s very well and doing a lot of sailing, which makes me rather jealous [laughs].
And was this via a letter?
It was… he sent the message to the transplant co-ordinator [specialist nurse], and she typed it out or sent it onto me anyway. So it was just signed, “Thank you very much. This, this, this and then his Christian name at the end. And I haven’t been, I said that if, to the co-ordinator I said, “Look, if it’s of any help, then I’m quite happy to make contact with him or meet him or whatever. But I don’t particularly want to because the principle was that I just put in the pool, put the kidney in the pool and whoever needs it most and is going to get the best benefit from it, that’s the wonderful thing about the NHS, that you can trust them to do that.
Yes. And when you replied to his message was that something you, you spoke to the co-ordinator over the phone and she wrote it down, or did you write it?
I wrote it down and sent it to the co-ordinator.
I thought it was quite important to get it, got to get it right, because you don’t want to in any way reduce the enjoyment of life for the recipient and their families.
Chris describes the various tests he had to have before getting approval to become a donor. These...
What tests can they [potential donors] expect to have?
Well, examining specimens of urine to see if there’s protein, which means the kidney may not be healthy. May not be healthy. Then blood tests to assess whether the kidney is washing out all the waste products correctly. Looking for other diseases. It could be that I had some disease lurking in my body which would harm the kidney or the kidney might even be infected with something. So you’ve got to exclude all those other things to be sure that you’re not going to harm the recipient of the kidney. So that’s blood tests really.
And then a test to see if my heart and lungs were good enough to stand up to what is a major operation, although it’s different to some of the old fashioned major operations. So that meant an exercise test and electrocardiographs, and chest x-rays and basic things like that.
And then finally this CT scan angiogram, where you have a dye injected into your vein in your arm and they do a CT scan. Which shows up all the little vessels and the contents of your tummy in the most minute detail. It’s absolutely amazing. And so the surgeon then can see exactly what he’s going to face when he starts the operation.
So I think those were the chief things. A psychologist was asked to see me. That was quite interesting and he felt that I was going to endure a lot of pain afterwards for some reason or another. And said he would always be available. But I’m not a terrible lover of psychologists in general, they have a place but…so I’m afraid I didn’t request his assistance. But he was very nice.
And then I had to see someone who comes to see fair play. This is someone who is supposed to be not attached to the kidney unit but acts on behalf of, I think of the Department of Health. And she asked me questions, “Is there any possibility that other people had influenced my decision? Was this going to affect my finances in any way?” Could there, she didn’t ask directly, was there any corruption involved in this. So it was really acting on behalf of the Department of Health to be sure that this was a bone fide action.
Chris went into hospital the night before the operation. The anaesthetist explained everything in...
I was just very relieved when at last I got a date to come in one evening, to this particular hospital. And then they did the operation the next morning. The anaesthetist came and had a long talk with me, because knowing I was a doctor he was being particularly obsequious and doing, explaining every little thing. I didn’t care what he had to say because I just wanted to get on with it.
But he explained all about every drug and all this, and all that, which to me was, really I didn’t want to bother with. I just trusted; you got to a stage where you go to an expert, a professional, you just trust him. And if you don’t trust him, well you should go somewhere else. So I trusted the set up and that was it really.
I didn’t have any dread before it, but then I’ve always been rather a reckless person. The next morning, when I woke up, within a very short while the surgeon came round and said he was glad to say the kidney was functioning very well in somebody else’s tummy. So that was the best news possible. Firstly, that I woke up and, secondly, that the kidney was functioning very well. You couldn’t have more satisfactory news than that.
So I had, I think it was probably three nights in hospital altogether, which were not uncomfortable in any way.
When Chris had an approximate date for surgery, he emailed his three children to let them know...
Once I’d got an approximate date, I then discussed it with my three children, or I sent my three children an e-mail saying what I was going to do. And they all responded positively. My wife had been careful not to go either way, to say “You must carry on and do it,” or “Don’t do it.” She knew I was going to do it anyway I suspect. But, if she’d interfered or expressed strong emotions about it, then of course it would have made life difficult for myself. It would have made it, affected my, it might have affected my decision. So she very wisely just kept neutral.
One of them [children] is a consultant surgeon, a urologist, so he knows quite a lot about kidney transplants. So he was no problem. And the other two, no they were perfectly content. And they know I’m a bit mad because I often go off and do funny things, so I just follow what I think is worth doing.
No, they were fine. Absolutely no stress and no tension. It didn’t create tension within the family. I think my wife must have felt a bit, must have felt pretty anxious from time to time, but she never showed it.
Local people read about Chris donation and often asked him about it. His colleagues, though,...
It was in the local paper and one or two people in the village made various comments to me, as if I’d been really put through the mangle. And I said, “Well it wasn’t a big deal actually. So it wasn’t a matter of being brave at all, it was just a matter of wanting to do it.”
And friends or colleagues, did you tell them afterwards or,
Yes. I didn’t discuss it with them before. Well, there was a funny thing. If you believe in things strongly, then you’re, to some extent it’s pretty, it’s quite a lonely business. I campaign about various things, and it is a lonely business. And one of the things you notice most is the silence of your friends. You may only notice this when you’re very much older and realise how was it these people that you loved for years and years and years don’t respond to when you talk about something that means a lot to you. Some campaign or some something that’s happening overseas maybe, and you can’t understand how is it that they don’t see that this is something important and worth attending to. But that’s the way of the world. And there’s no point in ditching your friends because they don’t see the same way. But the silence of your friends is one of the, is a hard, a slightly hard thing.
Chris felt that age, occupation and having dependents can influence peoples decisions to donate....
So thinking about, are there people who might not be suitable or who should think a lot more before going through this [living donation]? Obviously people who have dangerous occupations where they’re prone to trauma, like mountaineers, racing drivers, motor cyclists, members of the armed forces of course, obviously people who, there’s quite a possibility that they will have trauma to their tummy and lose a kidney in a trauma. Those people, it would be most unwise for them to give up one kidney.
Also age, I think probably by the time you’ve, as a mother or father, you’ve had you’re children and they’ve grown up a bit, then that might be a more suitable time. So, roughly speaking, I think between sixty and seventy would be the best time.
Over seventy, your kidneys are beginning to shrink a bit, still good for another ten years probably, but beginning to shrink. And under fifty, well you’re still living rather, probably or possibly, living quite dangerously I hope, because I hope people will go on taking risks with their lives, but that’s my philosophy.
So I think just that the younger you are, the more carefully it’s got to be thought through for altruistic donation. And fifty to seventy might be the ideal age. You’ll make a mature decision. You’ll have taken most of the risks you want to take physically and so on and so forth.
Chris, a doctor, had always been interested in helping people. Everything he read led him to...
Well my background really has been trying to see how much I can contribute to reducing suffering in all sorts of ways. And, for some reason or other, I just came to the conclusion that this was the right time to do something. In other words, we’d had two or three year’s experience with altruistic donation. I was absolutely confident that I didn’t need two kidneys, that one was enough.
From talking to the surgeons and reading the literature, I was confident that the chances of anything going wrong were much less than they are of me dying on the motorway driving from where I live into [place name]. In other words, I accept risk. I’m perfectly happy with risk in life. I’ve taken a lot of decisions in places that are extremely risky and there’s no problem for me. So it was no threat. So it seemed to me a very obvious thing to do.
One of the things that precipitated my doing this was reading an article by someone called Andrew Carnegie, who wrote an article on wealth about 100 years ago. For a time he was the richest person in the world. He wrote an article towards the end of his life and he said, “The person who dies thus rich, dies disgraced.” And I realised I wasn’t going to have millions to give away, millions of pounds to give away, but I did have a kidney that I didn’t need. And what was the point in waiting until I died to donate the kidney, because that really means that I didn’t honestly want to donate it anyway. That’s the same with money. So that really stimulated me, having read that brilliant article.