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Organ donation

Feelings after donating a kidney

All the donors we interviewed were glad they had donated a kidney to help a family member, friend or someone on the transplant waiting list have a better quality of life. Some said there were ‘no downsides’ at all and that donating a kidney to help someone else had made them feel they had done something very useful and worthwhile. Chris said he was grateful to have had the opportunity to help someone else and Paul, a GP, said that, as well as helping someone else, he’d gained some insights into how it feels to be a patient. This was the first operation he’d had.
 

Paul said that donating a kidney was a good and useful thing to do. It saves the NHS money. Being...

Paul said that donating a kidney was a good and useful thing to do. It saves the NHS money. Being...

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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I think the rewards are, I mean they’re… I think about this a little bit. In particular it’s thinking that one has done something quite useful. And there are all sorts of ways in which one tries to be helpful to people, or not as the case may be, in the course of one’s life. And one does good and bad things. All of us do that.

This is something that is really, I think, unequivocally a good thing, in the sense that you have somebody, hopefully as I say, a recipient, even if it doesn’t work out for them you at least give people the opportunity to get a kidney which is going to make a very substantial difference to the quality of somebody’s life.

So that’s, then there are other sort of spin offs. It actually saves the NHS a good chunk of money, which I actually feel that, since I’m paid by the NHS and take a significant income from them, I’m glad to be able to give something back in a way. So there is an element of that. But I suppose, fundamentally, it’s about feeling personally one has done something that’s useful and that’s been a community service really.
 

 

Maggie is glad she donated a kidney. She encourages other people to think about doing it. It’s...

Maggie is glad she donated a kidney. She encourages other people to think about doing it. It’s...

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Female
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By and large I would say, well certainly I would completely say that you have a sense of satisfaction for doing it. Not every minute of the day, I mean I hardly ever think about it now. But when I do think about it, I think “Oh good.” You know, someone’s got a life back And my life hasn’t had much of a dent as a consequence. So I’m glad, I’m glad I did. And I certainly would encourage anybody else to do so.

Some of the people we spoke with said the experience had made them look at work differently. Darren said he now wanted to work with people, especially those dealing with mental health issues. Clare said she had never had so much time off work and it had made her reflect on retirement. She also saw her experience as ‘a new beginning’.
 

Two months off work helped Clare see that there was more to life than work. Her life had...

Two months off work helped Clare see that there was more to life than work. Her life had...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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Has it made you look at life differently?

 

Yes. Yes, definitely. I think partly because I’ve never had more than a week off at a time. I’ve had two weeks sometimes, but this’ll be nearly two months. And it’s made me realise how there’s more to my life than just work. I felt I was my work to an extent, and I realise now I’m not. There is life outside work. I’m much more self-sufficient that I thought I was. People need me more than I thought they did, which is lovely.

Yes, but it’s, I just sit, things that were important, aren’t so important now. I popped back into work. I had to. I didn’t want to go, and immediately got my ears bent with the usual moaning about all the problems at work. I thought there’s more important things in life than whinging on about your hours have been changed or something. I’ve really made a difference to someone’s life and that’s fantastic. And that’s much more important than day to day niggles. Yes, so that has made a difference to my life. Yes. Which I didn’t expect at all. I just expected to carry on.

It’s a new beginning really. This is the Clare post-transplant. So my life has been the depressed alcoholic, anorexic mess. To changing that which has been a long process, coping with that, still having self-doubt issues, still not really feeling perhaps right with myself, to the third stage which is just starting now that, “Yes, I’ve put things right.” I’ve done something positive and, from now on, I will go on in the third stage of my life.
 

A few people said donating a kidney had made them more aware of their own health. They now wanted to eat more healthily or drink less alcohol.
 
Several donors said the experience of donating a kidney had been extremely enriching and that they had, quite unexpectedly, gained a lot from it.
 

Wallee gained so much from donating to his friend. It felt like a gift to both of them. After the...

Wallee gained so much from donating to his friend. It felt like a gift to both of them. After the...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
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I still find myself going back to the thing that, I gained from it in a funny way. I gained something, not that I became, you know people patting me on my back. But internally me, if I could find words for it still actually, it’s just that thing, it’s almost if you can help another human being, you’re both getting a gift. It’s a funny thing because there isn’t actually an ego involved, you’re both helping because ego isn’t, doesn’t even, well yes, what can you get from ego? It’s just strange. Just the chance that you could help somebody out, it’s a gift, it is powerful. It’s a strange thing.

Has he,

And encourages me to kind of, I think you asked me one question' has it changed my outlook? Very much so. I really think about people now. The more that you can help people and, in small ways, just looking after them if they come around to visit you, you just look after them. That kind of thinking came in. Because when I was recovering, people were looking after me and I was receiving compliments, just care, support. I was just, to coin a phrase, I received a lot a love. If you’re going to narrow it down to that, because that’s what it was.
 

 

Di met some wonderful people and found donating a kidney an enriching experience. Helping a...

Di met some wonderful people and found donating a kidney an enriching experience. Helping a...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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This whole experience, even with its hiccups and personal stresses, which is just me being impatient really, has been a wonderful experience. One that I would gladly do again and again and again and again, even with all the hiccups. Because the reward at the end, not only for the recipient but for me, has been something that’s going to stay with me forever. And what greater gift can you give anybody than give them their life back, or give them back to their family. There isn’t. Yet it’s so easy to do.

And can you just tell me a little bit more about these personal rewards, because someone else also in their interview said how enriching an experience it had been for them.

I think a lot of the rewards, the enriching rewards, have been in the people I’ve met rather than the actual deed of donating the kidney. It’s meeting people, like there were two people I met who had just had kidney/pancreatic transplants. And hearing about their life. One had been a diabetic since a child. They were now in their thirties and had been on dialysis for years.

And speaking to their family about what it means to them and the awful life they’ve all gone through. And then the man I spoke about who thanked me for donating to someone else. And other people I’ve spoken to, they’re just so brave, just so courageous. It puts me to shame really.

And they have so much hope. That is the one word they have' hope. Hope that people like me and other people can find it in themselves to either sign or to give a kidney, to help save them. And knowing that I have done that, and meeting these people, yes it just really enriches your life.

It’s very difficult to say exactly how. You feel more fulfilled for having met these people, of understanding their life, of having a small part in the whole picture of the whole thing. They were feelings I never expected to ever have. And they’re the best feelings that you could get.
 

Wallee said that his relationship with the friend to whom he had donated, had entered a new phase (see The recipient’).
 

Though very different people, Wallee and his friend’s relationship has been growing since...

Though very different people, Wallee and his friend’s relationship has been growing since...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
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At first, in the hospital, we were both completely different characters. I’d got my Irish personality, very talky. He’s Dutch, quite reserved. So there was a kind of, almost a getting to know each other on another level because this was a kind of an intimacy that we were thrown into, that maybe we hadn’t taken account for. Because once we stopped working together, it had been quite a few years gap actually. And I might come out to go out to the Greek islands and spend some time with him, and he’d be off and be working. And I would see him for a coffee or a beer or something. But I didn’t really spend a lot of time with him. He’s a bit of a private person actually, if I’m honest.

After the operation I was visiting in his room, and we were chatting a little bit. He was quite fragile because he was still on a lot of machines it seemed. Where I was actually off more or less. I had the drip for a while and then that was taken away. I can’t remember the days, two or three days after. You can move around with that anyway.

When he came home that was the real problem. Because he went into some kind of internal low period for whatever reason. Even to this day I think that he was affected in ways that he couldn’t understand. And he found it hard to communicate about them. When we discuss it now he says that he thinks it was the effect of the medication, because he was taking a lot of pills, like about thirty or forty pills. I can’t remember.

So we went through quite a difficult period. Because I’m Irish, I wanted to talk, he’s not talking. There’s no one else, so that was very hard. I found it very difficult. So there was a bit of a strain on our relationship, in terms of it getting kind of, I think it was just that particular circumstance.

Then that November he came to England and he was on terrific form. We just got on so well, stayed where I lived, stayed with me for three or four days. And we had a great time. We really had a fantastic time.  

And then I went the following year. On the anniversary I went to Holland, where I stayed with him and I had a lovely, lovely time. But our friendship entered a new phase and it’s been growing ever since really.

He’s obviously, in a sense he’s a less demonstrative kind of person emotionally, where I’m quite the opposite. But he’s a very special person and I think that was the feeling also why I decided to do it. I saw this person as being somebody quite incredible. And it was shocking to see him so ill, to the point where he was now on dialysis. His life was probably going to be shortened, you know. So yes, the relationship is growing in a completely different way now and whenever I go to Greece now, he completely looks after me. Completely.
 

None of the people we interviewed regretted donating a kidney and they advised others to think about living donation and organ donation (see Views on organ donation' living donors).
 
We did not come across any adults who’d had difficult experiences of living kidney donation. If you are over 18 and would be interested in sharing your experiences for Healthtalk, please email hergadmin@phc.ox.ac.uk

Last reviewed May 2016.
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