Calum Mitchell and Ian Cameron
Miracle match pair share their story to highlight extraordinary impact of living kidney donation
Father of two Calum Mitchell, from Dunfermline, received a kidney donated by friend Ian Cameron, from Edinburgh, after tests showed the pair were a 100% match.
Calum, who underwent his first transplant from a deceased donor aged 21 after being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, spoke of how Ian’s gift has given him his life back with his bloods showing his kidney function is better now than it was aged 16.
Living kidney donation plays a vital role in increasing donation and transplantation rates in Scotland, with a kidney from a living donor generally offering the best outcomes for patients in need of a transplant.
Research conducted to support the living donation campaign shows almost half of those surveyed said they’d be likely to consider donating to a friend (48 per cent), but for Ian, the decision was made long before Calum’s first kidney transplant failed.
Calum’s first transplant lasted 22 years, nine months and six days. By 2022, he describes himself as being ‘deep into overtime’ with his donated kidney.
“My first transplant went ahead in January 2000 and the difference it made to my life is very hard to describe. Within a year I was back to doing all the sports I loved and it was amazing being freed from dialysis, thanks to my donor and their family.
“Fifteen years post-surgery they told me my kidney function was gradually declining and by October 2021 a second transplant was raised. I knew this was ahead of me and never felt like the situation was out of control. I also felt hugely grateful my transplant had given me so many good years.”
Calum was listed for transplant and at that stage set up a WhatsApp group so his wife Kirsty could be supported by those close to her. This group included Ian’s wife Becky, which prompted Ian to email Calum in December 2021, broaching the subject of the donation.
“We were quite close and I had a good handle on the extent of Calum’s condition. I was always interested in how he was doing and years previously Calum mentioned he might need a new kidney. At that point, I spoke to my wife and we agreed we’d get tested as possible donors. So it was a kind of done deal at that point, in my head at least.
“I knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t be enthusiastic about the prospect. I’m a guy that likes to move quickly so I pushed him as I was resolute in my decision to donate. I think Calum thought I wouldn’t be a match so after a bit of back and forth, he eventually agreed to the initial tests.”
The testing started positively and went from strength to strength. Calum is a rare B negative blood type as is Ian. At that point they had a serious discussion about Ian moving to the next stage of testing and whether Calum would accept the kidney. On Ian’s 40th birthday in April, the tests went ahead and everything was a match, with the pair being told they could be twins.
“I’d left the ball in Ian’s court as I was grateful but that gratitude was tied up with concern and nervousness. I didn’t want to put any pressure on him, but when we got the test results it was hard to refuse as it definitely felt like it was meant to be.”
Calum went back on dialysis in June 2022 and the surgery was scheduled for September. Ian said:
“I was pumped going in for surgery, so excited. I’d never had surgery in my life. We drove into hospital together and it felt like a very unique experience.
“Post surgery I was sore but I felt great, and ravenously hungry about an hour later. I was up and about in a couple of hours and in for two days with the soreness getting better reasonably quickly.
“The highest point of joy for me was when I was out of surgery and Calum was in theatre having the transplant. The surgeon came to see me, my wife and Calum’s wife Kirsty and told us the kidney had started working straight away. I burst into tears and I’m not a crier. It was so joyful for the three of us, such a high point and a real special time.”
“Coming round from surgery, I knew I was immediately better, my extremities were warm, my head was clear, I had no central line in my neck which made me realise it had gone well. Compared to the last transplant, the recovery was so much quicker. I was home four days after surgery and taking the boys to football three weeks later.
“It’s like being given your life back. At the end I began to feel the decline and then felt really ill starting dialysis and the next minute I was fully alive. Life got back to normal so quickly and that is the difference. You go from one extreme to normality and normality is very, very special. I can’t really put into words what Ian has done. It’s a gift like no other.”
“We very much feel like this was providential. When we started out on this journey we had no idea if we’d get past the first stage, but our identical results showed it was meant to be.
“Kidney donation changes lives, life expectancy and there’s a knock on effect beyond the recipient. There is no personal gain other than seeing that person doing better. That’s what makes the purity of that gift is so unique. To anyone considering donating, I would say it’s one of the most profound ways of changing someone’s life and I’ve personally found the entire experience hugely rewarding.”