Jackie Keogh and Marion Hunter
Kilmarnock sisters speak of their gratitude for the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme following their donation and transplant experience.
Kilmarnock sisters have spoken of their gratitude for the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme after Jackie Keogh donated her kidney through the Scheme to enable her sister, Marion Hunter, to receive a kidney transplant in January 2021.
Marion was diagnosed with kidney disease at 21, and sister Jackie had always said she was ready to donate one of her kidneys if Marion needed it. When the sisters discovered they weren’t a match, their hearts sank, until they learnt that this didn’t mean the end of their journey.
“Marion has had problems with her kidneys since we were very young, and so we always knew that at some point in her life she’d require a transplant. I always said when the time comes I’ll give Marion one of my kidneys – that was something we’d always spoken about.
“Things didn’t actually start progressing until four years ago, when at one of Marion’s appointments it was mentioned that she should start thinking about a transplant. As soon as those discussions started, I just asked what I had to do to start the process.
“When I heard I wasn’t a match, my stomach dropped. We thought that after all these years of speaking about it that was the end. As they gave us the news, I wondered why the consultant wasn’t as upset as us, but the next part of the conversation was about the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme. They gave us all the information and sent us away to think about it.
“I’ll be honest, at first we weren’t really keen. We’d always thought that my kidney would go to Marion, I often joked that I was keeping it warm for her! We had so many questions about the scheme – what if my kidney goes, and Marion doesn’t get one? We met with the living donation coordinators who explained how the process worked, how it was all timed like clockwork, and assured us that there was no way Marion wouldn’t get a kidney. They were so helpful, and addressed all our concerns, so we decided to go for it.
“We had to wait about a year for Marion’s kidney function to drop to the point where she could be listed for transplant, and in March 2020 we had the meeting with the surgeons for us to be entered into the April 2020 matching run. Of course, Covid hit so things were put on hold until we were entered into the October 2020 run. We had no idea how it was going to work, it was our first time, so we were just keeping our fingers crossed we’d get the call.
“The call was worth the wait: we heard that an altruistic donor’s kidney would go to Marion, mine to another pair, and then theirs to someone on the waiting list. It was absolutely amazing to know that three people’s lives would be transformed that day!
“Although we had no idea where the other donors were in the country, I knew that my kidney was getting taken out at the same time as the one Marion was getting, so that was very reassuring. And as far as we were concerned, I was donating a kidney to Marion.
“The surgeries went well, and things have gone from good to even better. We’re both back at work and Marion’s doing more than she ever could before.
“For me, seeing the difference in Marion, is what it’s all about. I’d do it all again tomorrow if I could. I think the chain is a remarkable thing – to be part of something like that, where three people’s lives are being changed because one very selfless person has given that gift. I don’t deserve the same credit as them, as I can see the difference it’s made to someone’s life, whereas they’ve just done it out the good of their heart.
“It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done – I’m so happy I got the opportunity to do it. It’s a gift that I was given to be able to do that and make a difference, I haven’t given a gift. You can’t buy the feeling it gives you.”
“I guess I’ve had problems with my kidneys since birth, unbeknownst to me, and when I was 21 I discovered I had kidney disease. It was manageable then, so I was just referred to my local clinic for annual check-ups. But in the last five years, my kidney function started deteriorating, and when it hit 14% they started to work me up for transplant.
“I’m quite a determined person, and I didn’t want the transplant yet, so I watched what I ate, kept exercising as much as I could. But my kidney function gradually declined to 10% and I felt awful. To be honest, lockdown was a godsend for me as it meant I could work from home, which made my life so much easier. I had so little energy my life was work, eat, sleep. I was so tired all the time, and it had such a big impact on my family too – my husband and daughter had to pick up everything around the house as I couldn’t physically do any more.
“I remember saying to Jackie if we don’t get a match in the October run, I don’t know how much longer I can go on for. I really didn’t want to go on dialysis, and fortunately just managed to avoid it.”
Talking about Jackie offering to donate her kidney, Marion said:
“Jackie had always said to me, if you need a kidney I’ll give you one of mine, so when it was brought up by the doctors, she just asked who to call. It was quite emotional for me, as in the back of my head I knew I could never forgive myself if something happened to her, but Jackie was going to do it regardless of what I said!
“Julie Glen, our transplant coordinator, was amazing – she talked us through how it all worked. I don’t think we could’ve got through it emotionally without her and her colleague Marion. We could go to them with any questions we had, at any time. It was also so reassuring to have them come and see us on the day of the surgery.
“My recovery was great, the aftercare at the QEUH was second to none – you can’t fault the renal team there. My work were also very supportive, and now I’m back working full time, back training at the gym, working with a personal trainer once a week, back out walking again. Because I’d lived with kidney disease all my life, I don’t think I realised how unwell I was until after the transplant. The difference in my energy levels is amazing – staying up past 9pm is something I could never have done before. Now I can watch the News at 10 and still get up for work in the morning! It’s made such a phenomenal difference to my life. It's been great for the whole family as well – my husband says I’ve turned into a Duracell bunny I’ve got so much energy now!
“My altruistic donor wrote me a letter, and I will write back to her one day, but I’m not quite there yet. A wee bit of me still thinks I’ve got Jackie’s kidney in me. It’s an amazing thing for anyone to do, but for an altruistic donor it’s so special. No words would ever be able to thank someone for doing that.”