Helen Burns and Claire Hume

Helen thanks niece Claire for kidney donation which kept her off dialysis and renewed her quality of life

Ayrshire woman Helen Burns, 67, is backing a campaign celebrating the life-changing impact of living donation after she received the exceptional gift of a kidney from niece Claire, 36, in 2018. Five years on, both Helen and Claire are happy and healthy.

Helen first found out that there were problems with her kidneys when she was admitted to hospital with sepsis in 2011. Doctors discovered she had polycystic kidney disease and after recovering from sepsis, she had to begin attending hospital appointments every two to three months to have her function level checked. It gradually declined over the years, and by 2017 Helen was told that she would have to begin dialysis the following year and was added to the transplant waiting list.

“Being told you need a kidney transplant, it really hits home how unwell you are. At that point, I was really tired all the time, I didn’t have any colour to me at all, my skin looked grey. But I was still getting by, so I hadn’t fully considered how serious my situation was. Although it’s scary, there’s a part of you that’s glad to be on the waiting list, because it means there’s a chance you might get better soon. My biggest fear was going on dialysis, because I knew how much it would get in the way of my life. My son and grandchildren stay in Boston and I usually make it over two or three times a year to visit them. If I had to go on dialysis, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make those trips anymore.”

At this stage, Helen’s son travelled over from the States to find out if he was a match, and Helen’s sister, Alison, and her nieces, Claire and Louise, also came forward as potential donors.

Speaking about their decision, Claire said:

“A few years before, Louise and I had lost our dad to blood cancer which caused kidney failure. He ended up on dialysis and it was a really unpleasant and uncomfortable experience for him. We wanted to do everything we could to prevent Helen going through the same thing, so my mum, Louise and I all decided to go and get tested to see if we would be a match. Helen pushed back a little as she didn’t want us to go through it for her, but we were really determined. After all the tests were complete, we were told that I would be the most suitable match, and Helen’s transplant was scheduled for 31 October 2018.

“I wasn’t that nervous about my surgery, I was just really pleased that my aunt Helen was going to get a kidney and that she was going to avoid dialysis. I think my mum was the most scared because it was both her sister and her daughter undergoing surgery, but everything went well. We got to see Helen afterwards and it was just a great feeling that everything had gone to plan and she would be getting better soon. The first couple of days were quite rough and I didn’t feel great, but after that I was fine, and after about four weeks I felt like my normal self again.”

Speaking about her transplant, Helen said: “At the time of my transplant, my kidney function had dropped to six per cent, but I didn’t realise how ill I had been until I got Claire’s kidney. I instantly felt more energised and my appearance changed dramatically. I looked much brighter and healthier. I’d taken early retirement in 2017, so since my transplant I’ve just been able to enjoy life more. Alison, Claire, Louise, and other family live nearby and we’re all really close, so I get to see them a lot, and I’m able to continue visiting my son and his family in America. I help look after Claire’s dogs a lot too – it’s the least I can do! I’m so grateful to all my family who came forward to donate a kidney, and I’ll never be able to repay Claire for what she did for me. She’s given me a life I wouldn’t be able to have otherwise and I’m thankful every day.”

Speaking about her life since donating her kidney, Claire said:

“Donating a kidney doesn’t hold you back or stop you from doing the things you want to do. My life is the same as it was before, I work full time, I spend time with family and friends, I get out and about and am kept busy with my two dogs. Although it hasn’t impacted my physical health, donating my kidney has changed my outlook. I don’t take as many things for granted any more and I’ve got more into fitness and taking care of myself. If you’ve got the opportunity  to be a donor, I’d say to go for it. The outcome has been 100 per cent positive for everyone and I’m so happy I could help my aunt have a better quality of life.”

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