I’m stood at the bottom of a stairwell in the Harold Wilson building at the University of Huddersfield. I observe safely from my hideaway, students of all variety racing to the next dry spot as the rain pours down outside, typical November weather. My mobile phone is pressed my ear as I eagerly listen to the woman on the other end. She confirms the process to become an altruistic kidney donor an arranges my first appointment.
In 2015, during my final year of university, I decided that I wanted to donate my kidney. I didn’t know anyone in renal failure. As much as I hate to admit it, it was a very impulsive decision but as you know, I wasn’t in the best state of mind back then. I just wanted to give something to someone, to help someone out more than I could in the operating theatre.
Around this time, a documentary was being aired in the UK about organ donation and on this program was a segment about a lady in her late 40’s/early 50’s choosing to become an altruistic kidney donor. Being the easily influenced person that I am, I was inspired by her generosity and amazed by the idea that two people could potentially live normal lives just from a single living donation. It also suggested that organs from living donors had better success rates than those from deceased donors. I believed I was a fit(ish), teetotal, 22 year old with no other health concerns therefore a perfect candidate. Days later I was researching the process and contacted the living transplant team at St James University Hospital in Leeds.
For 6 months my life was filled with different appointments to determine whether I was a suitable candidate for living donation. The first session was a general health check. Basic obs were taken, blood samples collected and information leaflets given. Amongst all the literature was a informative DVD with interviews from other donors. I watched it on repeat for the best part of a week, soaking up as much information as I could. I was fully invested in this. I’d told my family and friends of my plans, some were more supportive than others. A common point that kept being brought up was “What if I have a future child that requires a kidney transplant” and the simple answer is: what if I don’t. Should my current decisions be dictated by a life I may or may not bring into the world? And should I have my own child that needs a transplant, whose to say I’d be a match? I was doing this so that someone else out there could watch their child grow up.
After the first few appointments, I progressed to the second stage: Therapy. A standard part of the process, these meetings were designed to see if I was donating for the right reasons and how I would cope post harvest. At the time, I’d only been psychologist free since Easter 2015 following treatment for bulimia so I was well aware of the set up and what sort of questions they would ask. (Typing this made realise how ‘unstable’ I actually was but at the time, I was convinced I was fine).
At a different section of the hospital, hidden in a car park with dated green carpet and one of those wooden armchairs dating back to the 1970’s, I spoke about my reasons for donating to a lovely lady who’s name escapes me. We discussed how I wouldn’t want to find out who received my kidney, that I’d prefer to stay anonymous. She then asked me something I was unprepared for: “How would you feel if your kidney went to someone who abused it”. Well.. I… erm… I’d painted this picture in my head of a parent needing more time with their child, to watch them grow and have kids of their own. It had never crossed my mind that it could go to someone who may not take their anti-rejection medication or to someone who would live a more reckless lifestyle. It also brought up the possibility that my well cared for organ might go to a serial rapist or murderer. I said that, by not knowing who had received my kidney, I could make up the fantasy in my head that it had gone to someone in greater need for it, who deserved it. It made sense to me otherwise you may end up carrying a burden you don’t need to carry. And who am I to say who is worthy of life?
Another pivotal point she raised what what if the kidney gets rejected, ultimately resulting in a wasted, healthy organ and two needless operations. I found this one easier to answer, perhaps from my own knowledge of operations. I simply said it was worth the risk. It’s worth it in case it doesn’t get rejected. To me, the rewards are greater than the risk.
We had months of these appointments, travelling back and forth to Leeds. Each week we delved deeper into my past to determine the true reasons I was doing this. I had to pass the physiological test before I could progress on to the next stage so when decision day arrived, I was understandably anxious. I resumed my position in the usual worn chair, the room deceptively calm and relaxed. I’d answered all the questions truthfully over the last few weeks with no real hiccups. I hadn’t picked up on any doubt or hesitation from my therapist so when she told me that I hadn’t passed the physiological assessment, I was absolutely heartbroken. Failing to hold back tears, I listened as she tried to reassure me. I was unable to proceed due to how recent my battle with bulimia has been (another f***ing thing my eating disorder has ruined) and that I needed a period of stability in my life. My age had also been a factor as 22 was quite a young age to make such a life changing decision. She seemed sincere. It was a shame that out of all the therapists I’ve visited in my life, she was the one I’d bonded with the best. As a small ray of hope, I was told that provided I didn’t relapse, I could try again in three years time. I didn’t.
Since then, I’ve matured. My priorities have changed, I’ve gain some valuable life experience and can fully appreciate why the decision to withdraw me from the process was made. Being an altruistic donor is still something I think about, I still stand my all my reasons back then but now isn’t the right time. I don’t have the right support network that I feel I would need for such a big operation. The idea of donating something has always been an idea that flutters in and our of my head. Whether it be a kidney or perhaps some eggs, I have this desire to just help other in the most unconventional way. And who knows, perhaps in a few years I’ll reapply and start the process all over again. Or I may settle down and have children or get hit by a bus… Who knows what will happen. My experiences thorough this whole process with stick with me and the amount I learnt in that short space of time has only improved me as a practitioner. Just another chapter to add to my crazy life.