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Woman gives her kidney to stranger she will never meet
« on: July 19, 2012, 11:49:06 PM »
Woman gives her kidney to stranger she will never meet

Friday, July 13, 2012Plymouth Herald

Growing numbers of people are choosing to risk hours of surgery to give strangers a new lease of life. Health reporter Diana Prince finds out why altruistic kidney donation is on the rise

HELEN will never meet the person whose life she changed by donating a kidney.

Altruistic kidney donor Helen Tworkowski

All she knows is the transplant was successful.

Helen Tworkowski, aged 55, of Tavistock, said undergoing major surgery to help a stranger was a "no brainer".

She is one of a growing number of 'altruistic' kidney donors – people who choose to give an organ while living to an unknown patient.

New figures released to The Herald show the number nationwide has quadrupled in recent years – from 10 in 2007/08 to 39 in 2011/12.

Helen is the only person in the region to have the operation so far this year.

She is currently recovering from the surgery which took place at the South West Transplant Centre, Derriford Hospital.

Helen said: "People are dying because there aren't enough kidney donors.

"I did this because I could. There are very few times in your life you have a chance to do something that will really make a difference.

"I'm in good health, I had two good kidneys, I have no dependents.

"There was a risk, as with any operation, but I felt like it was worth taking. By taking that small risk you can help someone repair their lives, impact on them and their family's. It seemed like the right thing to do, a no brainer."

Helen is single and works as an inspector for health and social care watchdog the Care Quality Commission.

She first became interested in altruistic donation three years ago when she heard about the amazing process on the radio.

"I tried to get more information but failed and then life moved on," she said. "But about eight months ago I heard something more about it on the radio. I looked on line and found a number for the transplant centre at Derriford."

The first meeting was in November last year.

Helen then went through four months of tests to check her fitness, kidney function and suitability as a donor.

"I've lost count of the number of tests," she said. "At one point I stayed at the hospital for two days undergoing blood tests and back-to-back appointments.

"It's all about checking you're are well, both kidneys are working sufficiently. You also see a psychologist to make sure you aren't doing it for the wrong reasons.

"Throughout the process you are given every opportunity to back out."

But Helen said she did not have any second thoughts.

The surgery took place in recent months. The Herald cannot print the date to protect the recipient.

"The operation was a relief after all the preparation," said Helen. "It took a few hours. I came around on the ward and had little pain or discomfort."

After two days in hospital, Helen was discharged to recover at home.

The only sign of the operation is a four-inch scar on her stomach.

Helen she is returning to "normal" health and plans to go back to work on Monday.

She said: "It's like giving blood: people need it and I could give it. If I was in that position, I hope to God someone would do it for me."


AT 83 YEARS old John Wenham is one of the oldest living people to give a kidney to a stranger.

The Saltash pensioner said he wanted to be ‘helpful’ – and would do it again if he could.

One year on from surgery he told his incredible story to raise awareness of altruistic donation during national Transplant Week.

John is one of around 100 altruistic donors in the country.

When he underwent the operation last year, aged 82, he was the oldest person in the UK to have had the procedure.

The title went to 83-year-old Nicholas Crace, from Hampshire, in May.

John said: “If I can help anybody out, I will. This was a way of being helpful.

“People kept asking me whether I was sure I wanted to go through with it, but I didn’t once feel like backing out.

“While going through tests to check I was healthy enough for the operation, I saw a patient on a dialysis machine and he looked so unwell. I thought that I had to go through with it whatever happens. I used to work with someone who had only one kidney and he was perfectly healthy.

“I thought: ‘I’m retired, I’m doing nothing, I’m sure I could live on one kidney’. And now I am.

“If I had another one spare, I’d do it again.”

John, who is unmarried and has no children, is a former Merchant Navy purser and civil servant who worked on Government training schemes.

His two main hobbies are “music and reading – jazz and classics”.

He surprised his GP when he asked about becoming a donor.

He said: “I’d got the idea when I saw a woman on television in 2010 who had given up a kidney to a relation. She was well in to her 60s.

“I thought ‘I’m in pretty good nick, I could do that’.

“I suppose it’s a guilty conscience in one way. I spend far too much money on CDs when it should go to charity.”

John’s GP referred him to the South West Transplant Centre at Derriford Hospital.

Tests revealed his kidneys functioned as well as those of someone decades younger, and he was fit and healthy enough for the surgery.

The octogenarian keeps fit and well with daily half-hour walks around his neighbourhood.

“They explained the risks to me, the ultimate is that you could die on the operating table,” he said.

“But I knew everything was going to be all right and I would bounce back – and I have.”

John has been told the operation was a success.

He said: “I don’t know whether it was a man or a woman who received it but they said the person was now healthy and not on a dialysis machine anymore. I thought ‘thank god for that, I’ve done my duty’.

“I wouldn’t say it was a holiday, but it was a change from the norm and it hasn’t done me any harm.”


DERRIFORD Hospital transplant experts said a growing number of people are opting to give the ‘gift of life’.

The South West Transplant Centre in Plymouth is one of the country’s top three centres for altruistic living kidney donation.

It has handled 11 of the country’s around 100 procedures since they were legalised in 2007.

Nationwide, the number of operations have quadrupled from 10 in 2007/08 to 39 in 2011/12.

Sara Stacey, South West Transplant Centre living donor transplant co-ordinator, said: “I have the utmost respect for people who give the gift of life to someone without any reward for themselves.

“Initially, when altruistic donation was introduced, I think most of us didn’t think it would cascade as it has done in such a short time frame.”

It used to be the case that ‘living donations’ could only take place between between family members or life-long friends. But the rules were changed to mean ‘altruistic donation’ could take place if people were motivated by a desire to help others.

She said the operation carries a nationally estimated one in 3,000 chance of death, but no altruistic donor has died in the UK.

She said the safety of the donor is paramount, and rigorous medical and psychological assessments are crucial.

Sara is a committee member of ‘Give a Kidney – One’s Enough’, a charity which raises awareness of altruistic donation.

“Because it is still a fairly new method of donation, some people may question it more,” she said. “Part of the work of the charity is making people aware that this is something we can do safely and open channels of discussion.

“Altruistic donation is not for everybody, for example if they are young and their primary focus is their family. But as time goes on, a lot of people – if they have been blood donors or platelet donors, or know someone who has had a transplant – are considering it.”

About 60 people contacted Derriford about becoming altruistic donors since 2007.

Initially people are sent more information. If still interested, they enter an assessment process which takes three to six months.

It includes numerous tests to check donors are healthy and have sufficient kidney function. There are also meetings with consultants and clinical psychologists.

Each transplant has to legally approved before the donor is registered with the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) authority so they can be matched with a kidney recipient.

“It’s not a process we rush through and people can withdraw they offer of a kidney at any time,” said Sarah.

Organs are removed at Derriford under general anaesthetic, cooled and transported by NHSBT to the recipient within 12 hours. They can be taken anywhere in the country.

Sara said once donors have recovered they remaining kidney safely adjusts to cope with the additional work of purifying blood.

Donors are provided with life-long annual health check ups.


A KIDNEY patient who has been on the transplant waiting list for 18 months highlighted the vital need for more organs.

David Broadbent, aged 52, of Plympton, received a kidney from his wife Trudi in 2005 – but the organ failed five years later.

He needs three four-hour sessions of dialysis each week to purify his blood and keep him alive.

Without the treatment, kidney failure leads to a build up of waste, causing vomiting, extreme tiredness and eventually death.

Father of two David said he thinks altruistic donors are “absolutely fantastic”.

“Because I’ve been in this situation, I’d like to think that if I was healthy I would do it myself.

“It’s got to be worth considering if you’ve got two kidneys and can happily survive without one.”

David said he started having kidney problems in about 1986,

“I have no idea what caused it,” he said. “Their function slowly deteriorated.

“I was 42 when I went on dialysis for the first time. I was on the waiting list for two years until I decided to go ahead with a transplant from my wife.

“It’s just one of those things I suppose. I’m one of the unlucky ones and I’ve just got to get on with it.”

David receives treatment at the NHS Plymouth Dialysis Unit in Estover. More than 180 patients with kidney failure from Devon and Cornwall attend the facility each year.


AROUND 300 people with kidney failure nationwide die each year while waiting for a transplant.

Around 6,500 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant – 26 of them in Plymouth.

Only 2,500 kidney transplantations take place each year, so 4,000 people who could benefit from a transplant each year are left waiting.

Altruistic donation is the giving of a kidney, from a living person, to a stranger who has kidney failure.

There is no payment for the NHS operation.

Altruistic donation was legalised in 2006. Initially no one came forward. Then, in 2007/08, 10 people did so. There were 39 in 2011/12.

In 2011 a further 1,000 people gave a kidney to a relative or friend.

Of the total around 100 altruistic transplants, 11 have been coordinated from the South West Transplant Centre based at Derriford Hospital.

Kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located just underneath the ribcage.

Kidney failure is the loss of their ability to filter out waste products from the blood before converting them into urine. The two main causes are diabetes and high blood pressure.

Patients with kidney failure have the option of dialysis or transplantation when both their kidneys fail.

On average most patients have to wait on dialysis for two to three years before a kidney becomes available on the national deceased donor transplant waiting list.

The success rate for transplants from living donors is slightly better than that for transplants from deceased donors: 90 to 95 per cent compared with 85 to 90 per cent.


ANYONE interested in becoming an altruistic donor can call Sara Stacey, South West Transplant Centre living donor transplant co-ordinator, on 01752 439955.

For further information about the process visit the ‘Give a Kidney - One’s Enough’ campaign website www.giveakidney.org

National Transplant Week, from July 9 to 15, aims to increase awareness of organ donation in general and encourages more people to join the donation register.

Anyone who signs up is pledging to donate their organs and tissue after their death.

Join the Organ Donor Register by:

Filling in a form online at www.organdonation.nhs.uk

Calling the NHS Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23. Lines are open 24 hours a day all year round. Calls are charged at contracted rate for local calls.

Daughter Jenna is 31 years old and was on dialysis.
7/17 She received a kidney from a living donor.
Please email us: kidney4jenna@gmail.com
Facebook for Jenna: https://www.facebook.com/WantedKidneyDonor
~ We are forever grateful to her 1st donor Patrice, who gave her 7 years of health and freedom


Copyright © International Association of Living Organ Donors, Inc. All Rights Reserved