Kidney transplant: four years on

2 December 2014

Journalist Rachel Stevenson has described how her life was turned around after she donated her kidney to her husband, James, four years ago.

James Hipwell began suffering from an autoimmune disease 12 years ago and his kidneys started to fail. At the time his brother Tom stepped in and donated his kidney to James.

However it was to prove a temporary measure and eight years later symptoms of kidney failure returned; the kidney had started to deteriorate.

James faced life on the organ donor waiting list, while having three-times weekly trips to the hospital for dialysis – a lengthy process which can leave patients drained.

Luckily for James, another option presented itself – his wife Rachel proved to be a good enough match and she quickly volunteered to give him her kidney.

It was thanks to assurances from the doctors at the Royal Free Hospital that James felt confident about undergoing a second kidney transplant. Medical science had made significant improvements since James’ first transplant.

Second time around the operation, which was carried out at the Royal Free Hospital, was done using key-hole surgery, which made things much simpler. Immune-supressing drugs had also moved on, enabling Rachel to donate her kidney even though she wasn’t a perfect match for her husband.

Rachel and James both made a full recovery and James’s new kidney is continuing to function well. The couple now have two young children: Elizabeth, two, and Christopher, one.

The Royal Free Hospital has an outstanding reputation for kidney and liver transplants and the team includes a range of experts, including specialist transplant nurses, transplant surgeons and kidney transplant physicians.

Rachel says the Royal Free Hospital’s live donor team were brilliant at guiding the couple through the complicated process of organ donation.

“It’s amazing to think how little we think about it now,” Rachel said. “James is very well, especially compared to how he was before the transplant. He was going into hospital every other day for about six hours when he was having dialysis. He was taking about 30 pills a day. Now he is only on three types of medication, one of which is the anti-rejection medication. The transplant has effectively brought him back to life and we wouldn’t have been able to have a family.

“Doctors used to say you shouldn’t donate a kidney if you still want to have a baby. But now they say it is fine to go through a pregnancy after donating. I have had two pregnancies and they were both fine. Having the transplant hasn’t limited my life at all.”

And Rachel is also keen for more people to carry donor cards and for people to talk to their families about being a donor to ensure more organs can become available for those who need them.

“Being a donor can have such a transformative effect on someone’s life,” she said. “We know the medicine works, it’s just there aren’t enough organs."