Resolve to give the gift of life

Published on Wednesday, 02 January 2013 09:30
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

The Scottish Government is calling on more Scots to join the NHS Organ Donor Register in 2013 to build on the milestone of having 40 per cent of Scots on the Register – the highest percentage in the UK.

The call is backed by transplant patient Kirsten Harrold, aged 43, from Portobello.

Kirsten was diagnosed with kidney failure at the age 16 but a New Year's gift of a transplant on January 1, 1990 not only give her back her life, but allowed her to go on to be a mum of four healthy kids.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said:

"I don't think there is a better New Year's resolution than to become a potential life saver by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register.

"We know the festive season is an important time for people to spend with family and friends, but I'd like people to spare a thought for the Scots who are waiting for an organ,  hoping that they get to spend another Christmas with their families and loved ones.

"For them, the most admirable New Year's resolution would be for more people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Stories like Kirsten's show the incredible impact organ donation can have on not just one person, but a whole family.

"Simply letting your loved ones know your wishes about organ donation could make all the difference to those desperately waiting."

Since receiving her kidney transplant, Kirsten has had normal kidney function and is leading a full and busy life, raising her children Peter, 13, Matthew, 8 and twin girls Charis and Gracie, aged five.

Explaining how her illness affected her from a young age, Kirsten explained, "I was unwell for a while before I was diagnosed, feeling really tired, fainting regularly and suffering from headaches. I'd been back and forward to the GP, but by the time I reached 16, I weighed around five stone and was really ill. After having bloods taken, I was admitted to hospital immediately."

Kirsten suffer from kidney failure as a result of a condition which meant she couldn't keep salts or minerals in her body. The fainting was due to dehydration and Kirsten spent the week in hospital where she was stabilised, put on medication and told to maintain a low protein diet.

Kirsten said, "Although I looked after myself, when I was around 18, the medication wasn't enough and I was put on dialysis.  Because I was so young, I was quite naïve about it all and didn't realise what being on dialysis meant, or how serious it was. At this time I was also assessed for going on the transplant list."

Visiting the hospital three times a week, for up to two and a half hours of dialysis per session, Kirsten's condition started to take its toll, "I was on dialysis for around 18 months which had huge implications for my family as my dad had to take me to and from the hospital.  As a dialysis patient I was quite well, but compared to any normal 18 year old, I was really pretty ill."

The call to say a suitable kidney had been found came on Hogmanay in 1989 whilst Kirsten, aged 20, was celebrating the turn of the year with friends. Twenty four hours later, on the first of January, Kirsten's life had been changed forever.

She explained, "Everything went really well with the transplant and my recovery.  It was amazing, I didn't know how ill I was until I felt better."

In the July of that year, Kirsten met her partner Pete and as the years passed the pair started to look to the future and the possibility of kids.

"Having a child wasn't a decision we took lightly. By my late twenties, my transplant was well established and there were no problems, but obviously due to the medication I was on and the pressure a pregnancy would put on my body, it takes a bit of thinking through."

Kirsten attended pre-pregnancy counselling where she found out more about the risks and what would happen with her medication if she became pregnant.

After a textbook pregnancy, Peter was born by caesarean section and Matthew, Kirsten's second son was born four years later.

As Kirsten's experience of pregnancy had been so positive, and she was keeping well with healthy creatinine levels, they decided to try for a third baby – and got the news it was twins.  They welcomed identical twin girls Charis and Gracie into the world in August 2007.

"Being a mum and being able to do all the mum things like breastfeeding was amazing."

Almost twenty three years on from her transplant, Kirsten is under no illusion that she wouldn't be enjoying the life she has if it wasn't for the decision made by her donor and is still so grateful.

She said, "What do you say to someone that has made that decision? It's not just my life it has changed, it changed the lives of my family and gave me the chance to have a family of my own.  If I'd still been on dialysis, I wouldn't have been able to sustain four pregnancies or be fit and well to raise small children.

"My transplant allowed me to make decisions and choices that everyone else takes for granted, such as working full-time and having kids. We're a really active family and my kids wouldn't be leading the full lives they have if it wasn't for my transplant and my excellent kidney function.

"It's not just the recipient that benefits from the NHS Organ Donor Register, it's everyone around them which is why it's so important that people sign up to help those waiting. I'm very grateful to have been given the opportunity to have this life and my family. I always will be."

Scotland reached the milestone of having 40 per cent of the population on Register earlier this year.

In Scotland, there are around 600 people needing a life-saving transplant.

In October this year, the Scottish Government launched a campaign designed to get people talking about organ donation, to make their wishes known to their loved ones and to join the Register.

Source: ©Scottish Gov

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