We were already close... then my sister donated a kidney to me. I'm so grateful

To mark Organ Donor Awareness Week, CHRIS DUNNE talks to a Cork man who benefited from a new kidney, courtesy of his younger sister
We were already close... then my sister donated a kidney to me. I'm so grateful
Annette Beston lives in Michelstown Co Cork and her brother Michael Kiely lives a few miles away. Picture Dan Linehan

A FAMILY wedding proved to be the turning point in Michael Kiely’s life.

By then, his need for a replacement kidney was so bad that he had been on dialysis for three years and been on the transplant list for a new one for 18 months.

He was playing a waiting game and had reached a critical stage. His family knew something had to be done urgently.

“A few of the relations at the wedding were discussing how unwell Michael looked that day,” recalls his sister, Annette Beston, a mother-of-three.

“Some of the cousins decided to get tested in Beaumont Hospital to see if anyone was a compatible match so that they could donate a kidney to Michael. He realised how much he needed this.

“The relations all made appointments and had their blood taken for tests to see if they were compatible.

“My sister, Noelle, had just had a baby, so she wouldn’t be considered as a donor.”

Annette also got herself tested for a match.

“Six weeks later, I found out that I proved to be a perfect match,” she said.

Annette, who is mother to Shane, Lorna and Ciara, was delighted to be a suitable living donor for her brother

“It was like winning the lotto,” says Annette, who ended up donating a kidney to her brother, who is three years her senior, five years ago

Had she any reservations about donating one of her own healthy kidneys to her elder brother?

“It was a no-brainer,” admits Annette.

“My husband and my family were fully supportive. Once I knew that I could live normally with one healthy kidney; it was full steam ahead.”

Five years on, Michael has a new lease of life thanks to his sister.

“There is no comparison to my quality of life before and after I received my kidney,” says Michael, who is married to Mary. “I can organise my life now. I can go on holidays and I can play golf.

“I’m not waiting day after day for that phone call. I felt better the first day after the kidney transplant and even better the second day.

“About three weeks after the operation, I began to notice that I had more energy.

“I was also able to eat a normal diet as opposed to a very strict renal diet that I had been on for dialysis.

“My fluid intake was one litre per day. Now I could drink cups of tea and coffee.”

Michael has never looked back.

“Life is good for me,” he says.

Life had changed for Michael when he was seven years old.

“A tractor accident when I was a child damaging my kidneys,” he explains. “Recurring kidney infections over the years scarred my kidneys, deteriorating them more. The infections were very painful.

“Eventually I became immune to the antibiotics which meant I had to go into hospital for five to seven days to have antibiotics intravenously. That was heavy going.”

Annette Beston and her brother Michael Kiely. Picture: Dan Linehan
Annette Beston and her brother Michael Kiely. Picture: Dan Linehan

Michael was 40 when he had to go on dialysis.

“I was monitored all the time as my kidney functions were falling off so much that they were not clearing the toxins which were building up in my body.”

The dialysis was a gruelling, time-consuming experience. The sessions took place three times a week, each lasting for four and a half hours.

“It was exhausting,” says Michael, who travelled from his home in Kilglass, Mitchelstown, to Cork University Hospital for dialysis.

“My week revolved around dialysis three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, where I’d spend four and a half hours on the machine.

“In total, I’d spend five and a half hours in CUH. When you take in the drive over and back between Mitchelstown and Cork, you are talking about seven to eight hours a day.

“The following day you are tired and not able for much until that evening.”

Michael’s kidneys were finally removed in two separate operations. Then he became eligible for a kidney transplant.

“I had to have both kidneys removed before I could get the transplant,” he says. “If only one was removed, there was a risk of cross-contaminating whereby the new kidney would be infected by the old one.”

Having the transplant operation was a big decision for his sister.

“I underwent a full medical examination,” says Annette.

“Having the full support of my parents and my family helped enormously. I had no issue. I was fit and healthy, so any risk was minimal.

“The work-ups included evaluation of my kidney function and assessment of both mind and body.

“Both the donor and the recipient sharing a blood type is a prerequisite for any organ transplant, and chances are that siblings are most likely to be a closer match.”

The siblings had two operations undertaken by two surgeons in two separate theatres, in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. The operations took the best part of the day.

Annette remembers one thing in particular.

“You know the success of the operation almost straight away,” she says. “The kidney was working well. It is an incredible gift to be able to give.”

Her brother was poorly going in for the operation. He came out a different man.

“Michael’s colour improved immediately,” says Annette. “He had a healthier complexion.

While she is petite, Michael has a 6 foot 1 inch frame.

The size of the kidney doesn’t matter,” says Annette. “Being a match is all that matters. It all worked out.”

The siblings were close before. “We are even closer now,” says Annette.

“He was so sick before. Now he has his life back. The reward has been fantastic, seeing the difference it has made for Michael. The transformation was truly amazing.”

They both recovered well.

“There was some recovery after surgery,” says Annette. “And I wasn’t able to drive for a while. The positives far outweigh the negatives.”

Annette wants to get the word out.

“My message to people would be to consider being a living donor. Once you are fit and healthy; you could take someone off the waiting list.”

In 2015, there were a total of 266 organ transplants, including heart, lung, liver and kidney. Beaumont Hospital carried out 153 kidney transplants including 33 from living donors.

The siblings continue to raise awareness about the ongoing and ever increasing demand for organ transplantation which relies on the public for organ donation.

“There are an awful lot of people affected by bad kidneys alone,” says Michael.

“Acute patients from all over Ireland are on dialysis. The new unit in CUH opened in 2010 is operating at full capacity. Numbers are increasing all the time. More people are undergoing dialysis at home.

“Renal failure can occur from diseases like diabetes or polycystic kidneys, an inherited condition. High blood pressure poses a risk too.

“It costs about €80,000 to continue dialysis for a year,” says Michael. “And only €35-40,000 to do living donor surgery. The six specialist nurses trained to approach grieving families when dealing with difficult circumstances surrounding death and potential organ donation are a great help.”

Michael and Annette agree that raising awareness about organ donation is as important as fundraising. Packing the donor card in our wallets, purses and pockets can give us the power to save a life.

“Carry the donor card and have the discussion with the family,” says Michael. “Organ donation is an individual thing, any decision made is totally from free will.”

Data shows that a living donor kidney not only functions better; it lasts longer.

“After years of illness and months on dialysis, Michael, who is self-employed, is enjoying a new freedom. “I come and go as I like, as long as I take my medication.”

Michael and Annette are getting on with living their lives.

“We were always close,” Michael says of his relationship with his sister. “The bond is there and I will always be grateful.”

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