COURAGEOUS Lurgan woman Andrea Gardiner has given her brother Paul Beattie the gift of life - by donating one of her kidneys to a man who lost both his kidneys and endured 17 months of dialysis, writes Victor Gordon.
The miracle of surgery means that one of the two healthy kidneys inside Andrea’s body in mid-October now functions inside her brother, replacing the total tiredness and lethargy with the energetic life he used to enjoy.
Mother-of-three Andrea (43), a classroom assistant in King’s Park Primary School in Lurgan, is well on the mend, and hasn’t regretted for one minute her decision to donate a kidney to her much-loved brother.
“The fact that Paul lived a normal life with one kidney from 1997 until early last year, proved to me that it was perfectly possible. The dialysis was tough on him, and seven months into it, I decided - after careful consideration - that I would be his donor. The entire process from decision to surgery took about a year.”
She talked it over with her three children - Roslyn (20), Philip (18), both at university, and Jill (14) - as well as her mother Lorna. “Mum was really torn by it all,” she said. “After all, her son and daughter were both going through major surgery on the same day, and she had such mixed feelings. She was with us on the day of the two operations, and she has been such a rock throughout. She handled it brilliantly and moved in with me after the operation to literally run our home in Lurgan during the month when I continued my recovery.”
Her brother, Paul (46), who is registered blind and lives in Portadown said he would be eternally grateful to Andrea.
He explained: “I can’t ever thank Andrea enough. I was the one who had the misgivings - feelings of guilt and trauma, thinking what she was going through for me. I’d had both my diseased kidneys removed (in 1997 and 2011) and had been going through dialysis three days a week, five hours a day for 19 months, at the City Hospital, and had no energy whatsoever. I knew only too well the serious operation she had committed herself to, as I had experienced that operation twice. It’s a painful process.
“But once she made up her mind - a year before the actual operation at the City Hospital - Andrea never once wavered. She knew the risks, and on the morning she was taken to theatre, I asked her if she really wanted to do this. She never flinched, and I admit I shed tears of emotion that she was willing to sacrifice one of her kidneys for me. The surgery was on October 15, and now five weeks later, it seems to have been a total success.
“My face turned from a dark, grey colour to pink immediately after the surgery, I couldn’t believe how well I felt with the kidney kicking in so soon.
“Having a kidney removed, and when we were reunited in the ward, the tears flowed again. But it wasn’t without its humour. I called out, ‘Thanks for the kidney Andrea!’ and she replied, ‘Any time. Paul!’. There was much emotion, mixed with laughter, in the recovery ward.”
Before the double-operation, the much-publicised kidney donation of sports star Joe Brolly to his friend Shane Finnegan - which ultimately failed - hit the headlines. But Andrea had made up her mind, and the lady wasn’t for turning.
Having passed the important month deadline, with the important three-month and year periods still to come, Andrea and Paul are confident he will lead a normal life, with the required medication helping him through. “If it is still a success after a year, that means the long-term prognosis is 90-95 per cent,” said Andrea.
A thorough, intelligent woman, with a firm Christian faith (a faith which Paul shares) Andrea researched every facet of the situation, not least the fact that the medical team had to pass her physically and mentally fit for what lay ahead - and, of course, her kidney had to be compatible before they could even consider a transplant.
“The tests were thorough and were completed by the City staff, all within a 12-hour period ,” she said. “And while the match wasn’t 100 per cent - few apparently are - the match was well within the criteria required.” The process covered everything from blood tests, x-rays, ECG tracings, various urine tests, assessments, educational talks, kidney function, tissue test... Said Paul, “It would have fazed anyone, but not my brave, determined sister. We were always close, but this has drawn us even closer together.”
Andrea drew strength from a woman at the City Hospital who simply donated her kidney to whoever needed it. “It ended up with someone from London,” she said. “It reinforced my determination that if a woman could do that for a total stranger, then I could do it for my brother.”
Said Paul, “A month later, I felt so good, Andrea is well on the way back. It’ll be the New Year before we’re back to normal, and I can look forward with confidence to a full life - thanks to my wonderful caring sister.”
They thank a lot of friends and family, not least the members of their churches - Andrea’s is Lurgan Elim and Paul’s is Portadown Baptist - “and the power of prayer was such a help”.
Said Paul, “One benefit is that I can now eat what I like and abandon the fact that I could only drink 500ml of liquid a day - was I thirsty! Before the transplant I also had to avoid foods like bananas, ice cream, chocolate, mushrooms and brown bread. “Now I can eat anything. We were in Portstewart at the weekend and I had a Morelli’s ice cream. Boy, did I enjoy it!
The family advocates the ‘Carry The Donor Card’ campaign, and feels that Northern Ireland should adopt the ‘Opt Out’ policy where everyone is a donor unless they specifically let the authorities know they want to be excluded.
Live donors like Andrea can contact the City Hospital on 90329241 and find out about transplants. All donors and transplant patients are treated with the utmost confidence.