The idea of giving a kidney had been knocking around in the back of my head for sometime. But what galvanised me into really doing something about it happened as I was preparing the dinner, listening to the radio. They were interviewing a man - I think in his 70's - who'd recently been an altruistic donor. I suddenly thought, well, I can do that too!
The motivation is harder to pin down. A close friend had a kidney transplant and it made an enormous difference to their life. I've always felt I've had a very fortunate life which includes enjoying good health. Maybe time to 'give something back'? The way I explained it to some of my more nervous friends was as follows: if you were in a boat with two life vests on and someone was struggling in the water without one, you'd give one of your life vests wouldn't you? (Don't push the analogy too far though as it can get leaky!)
Anyhow, straight after the radio interview I found the relevant phone number for altruistic organ donation, got the pack, and made an appointment at the hospital.
The assessments - which are incredibly thorough, no stone is left unturned - took over a year in all, though this can vary. Aside from making sure that both kidneys are in good shape the donor's future health is considered paramount. The team explain that it goes against their training to remove a healthy organ from a healthy person so you have to consider your own health down the line. However once on the road I was keen to get on with it; I began to suspect that the assessment process is made so long to weed out those that aren't truly committed! Total, unswerving commitment to donation is what's needed. You don't want to waste anyone's time. However, you can change your mind even at the last minute as the lead surgeon asks you one more time as you are wheeled into theatre.
The whole team were fantastic. Every aspect of the process from assessment through donation to recovery is fully explained. There should be no surprises! One thing that did surprise me though was how good I felt a few hours after the operation. Despite tubes and monitors galore in the High Dependency Unit, I was emailing and texting friends and family. You are encouraged to get up and move about as soon as you can; all made possible by the 'keyhole' surgery. (I've only five small scars).
I was discharged from hospital after 4 days. For the first week or so at home the best advice is to 'listen to your body'. Have a nap - or several - eat what you fancy and when but don't lift heavy objects or walk too far too soon. Luckily my wife spoiled me and I got out of dog walks for ten days! Again, I was surprised at how little time it took for me to get back to a normal routine. After two months we went hillwalking on Arran for a week.
Overall, the donation process is made incredibly straightforward. I cannot praise the whole transplant team highly enough - you feel part of a club that's working for a good cause. I've no wish to hear from the recipient, and to be honest, I rarely think about the donation. I'm fitter and healthier than I've ever been, partly through getting in slightly better shape before the op (I wanted to make sure the procedure went ahead and to ensure the kidney was in tip top shape for its new owner) and exercising more and eating more wisely afterward. In the year following I chopped down and chopped up several big trees and helped build our new house. Maybe the only change is that I lost the taste for strong red wine - but that's no bad thing!
If you are interested in donating, do find out more. And just do it. It's made easy!