Wallee - Interview 09
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In 1998, Wallee got a job as a chef in one of the Greek islands. Here, he became friends with a colleague who he was, later, to donate a kidney to – a Dutchman who lived and worked in Greece. Wallee worked in Greece for four seasons and left in 1997, holidaying there occasionally and meeting up with his friend when he was there.
In 2004 when he visited Greece, he met up with his friend who was, at this time, very ill but didn’t know what was wrong. In 2006, Wallee got an email from his friend, telling him that he’d been diagnosed with kidney failure. He would be going back to Holland, where he would be having dialysis several times a week.
Around this time, Wallee heard two very inspiring and moving stories about living kidney donation. He said, ‘I was completely stopped in my tracks that someone could be so generous… It was very moving. And the thing that struck me was I thought, well, you can actually donate your kidney to somebody outside your family. You can actually. And I thought to myself, there’s no reason why I couldn’t do it.’ Wallee emailed his friend and offered to donate a kidney. Most people he knew advised him against this, but Wallee felt strongly that it was the right thing to do.
Wallee had various hospital tests and, on two occasions, flew to Holland where he had further tests. These showed that he was in good health and a compatible match with his friend. His friend was now on dialysis, which he had for eight or nine months in total. Before Wallee went to Holland for the surgery, his friend made lots of practical arrangements, including their accommodation after the operation, Wallee’s travel insurance, flight costs and rent. Sadly, the day before Wallee and his friend were admitted to hospital, his friend’s mother died.
Wallee was in hospital for a week and then went to stay with friends who lived a short distance from the hospital. At first, he found it hard to eat but reflected on the whole experience. He said, ‘I just remember having…a deep experience about the whole thing, just something deep because I agreed to do something, and I trusted in something. So something else took place, which has remained with me ever since actually.’
A week later, Wallee’s friend was also discharged from hospital and they convalesced together. Wallee said his friend was very quiet and withdrawn at first and this could have been because of the vast number of medications he’d been prescribed. They both made good progress and are very well now.
When the doctor gave Wallee permission to travel again, he went to Copenhagen for a week and then to Greece for two weeks. Back in the UK, he returned to work and resumed his life. He now has annual follow-up appointments and feels very well. Wallee found the whole experience enriching and said, ‘I gained from it in a funny way… It’s almost if you can help another human being, you’re both getting a gift.’
There is nothing to be afraid of and donating can be a very enriching experience. Wallees friend...
It’s nothing to be afraid of whatsoever, and in fact it’s a very, very powerful experience that kind of enriches you. You can’t put a price on what that is going to be, a price of words, on the help you’re doing another person. You’re almost giving a person a life. I don’t want to make it too big, but my friend now just lives an amazing life now again.
And I saw him just a few weeks ago in Greece. He’s just so well again. And he’s a big guy, a couple of metres tall and ah, I guess things like if, check your health is okay. But it’s almost like I feel like saying, “You can do it. You can do it.” Because it’s a big deal and yet it’s not a big deal. It’s a big deal, your life will be knocked sideways for a week. For a week, you’ll be knocked out. But you’re healthy. It’s not like you’re knocked out, you’re not well like you’ve got a disease or you’ve got cancer if you’re not well for a week. But you’re actually well so you’re body just comes back.
Wallees mum didnt want him to donate. Friends were also wary. Telling other people made him...
You talked to family and friends and you said that most people were against it?
Well, in a sense they were not sure that it was a good idea. I won’t say they were stubborn and stopped me. But they were, I can’t say everybody, I’m sure there were some people who were saying, “This is a really amazing what you’re going, what you’re willing to do.”
But I remember a lot of people were very cautious saying, “I’m not so sure this is a great idea.” And my mother was completely against it. And she just, you know, I had to kind of pacify her. I guess she was concerned. That’s why, people were concerned about the implications for me. But what’s interesting is that it makes you realise how little people know about what’s involved.
At first, Wallee had very little appetite and slight discomfort around the wound. He spent five...
I was in a certain amount of shock and things that were slightly uncomfortable was that I found it difficult to eat, because obviously everything had happened in the tummy region. So my digestion wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t really having much of an appetite. And there was a certain amount of coming to terms with what had happened. I just remember having, sorry it’s hard to explain, an almost kind of a deep experience about the whole thing, just something deep because I agreed to do something, and I trusted in something, so something else took place, which has remained with me ever since actually.
I was ready to go home. I was ready to rest and have food at my own time, not when the food came around in the hospital. And I had better food actually in hospital, that’s the reality. I could say, “Well I feel like a little bit of fish or something, potatoes.” I could actually say that because there is a menu in hospital but, you know, they’re cooking on such a big level.
I spent five weeks, something I’m going to have. I think it might be slightly wrong, something like five weeks in my friend’s house. Then I went to Denmark for a week. So somehow about two months, you’re still recovering for a few months after that. But two months, allow time. But it’s not like, it’s a case of really being ready, you’re up walking in a couple of weeks, shuffling around.
Wallee gained so much from donating to his friend. It felt like a gift to both of them. After the...
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.
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.
Though very different people, Wallee and his friends relationship has been growing since...
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.
Wallee felt a bit isolated at first, though the environment was perfect for recovery. He could...
I went through a period of, it was kind of isolation because, even when I came back to this house, his friends were actually abroad on holidays. So we were in the house alone with somebody caring for us.
And so it was just a totally new experience. The neighbourhood we lived in was very quiet, perfect. Beautiful, comfortable, low house with a big garden. So it was easy to sleep and relax and rest.
Then the people whose house we were in returned from their holidays. And I got on with them very, very well, and I just continued to make progress, you know walking the dog, just going for walks and eating, sleeping, resting.
And eventually the doctor gave me permission to travel. And I flew to Copenhagen for a week and then I went to Greece for two weeks. And I stayed in my friend’s house because he was still recovering. So I actually stayed in his house in Greece, on this Greek island, and we spoke on the phone. So it was an unusual circumstance, but it was so, still if I think about it, it was so powerful.
Wallee heard two very moving and inspiring stories about living kidney donation. When he heard...
On BBC World Service I heard this incredible story about this man, who was a business man in Philadelphia and flew to New York every so often, fairly frequently I think, to do some business there. And he ended up befriending a man from the Lebanon I think it was, who became his taxi driver. And every time he picked him up and looked after him while he was in New York.
And one time he flew in and somebody else picked him up and he said, “Where is Abdul?” You know, whatever the person’s name was. And the guy said, “Oh he’s gone home to Lebanon, he’s not been well” or something. And he found out that he was having kidney failure. And I heard this story that he was a man who had a family, only knew this person as a taxi driver, but donated a kidney to him. And I was completely stopped in my tracks, that someone could be so generous given his circumstances, given the relationship wasn’t that close or it didn’t appear to be that close.
Within a couple of days I heard a second testimony to someone donating a kidney. These two friends, two women friends, and one had given a kidney to the other. And this was lately again after the situation, and they were both out jogging. And again I can’t remember the interview, but it was again very moving. And the thing that struck me was I thought, well, you can actually donate your kidney to somebody outside your family. You can actually, you know.
And I thought to myself, there’s no reason why I couldn’t do it. That was really my thinking. There’s no reason. I’m healthy, I’m not married, I don’t have any kind of concerns. And so I made the decision that I could do it.
So I sent an e-mail to my friend and he sent me something back really beautiful. And he was really, really overwhelmed with the generosity of that offer. And he said, “Thank you so much. Regardless that this could ever actually happen, you’ve already said something very powerful to me and I want to say that to you.” And he said, “Okay, well what you need to do now is go and see your doctor.”