Clare Bolitho is a vet at the St George's Veterinary Group in Wolverhampton. In 2011, she gave one of her kidneys to a stranger.
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How did you hear about altruistic donation?
In 2010 I was looking for a way to celebrate 21 years of sobriety when I heard a snatch of conversation on Radio 4 about altruistic kidney donation. It was about a relatively new change in the law allowing people not related to or known by a recipient to donate a kidney. It was a lightbulb moment – what better way to celebrate my new life than by giving someone else the chance to do the same?
What did you do next?
Needless to say the next step was to Google it and I was directed to my local hospital, and from there to my nearest transplant centre. I was advised the first thing I should do was to discuss it with my family and my employer.⇓
What did they think?
My family was a bit bemused but happy to support me, as was my employer. The problem was I needed around six weeks off work after the surgery. The dozens of trips to hospital that I needed beforehand for the exhaustive medical checks could be arranged around work; it was that chunk of leave that was the problem.
Tell us a bit about the experience
Eventually, after the planned surgery was postponed twice due to illness/accidents of my colleagues, which meant I couldn't be away at the same time as they were out of action, I had the surgery in March 2011.
The operation went without incident. I was kept in for three days, during which time I developed a love of paracetamol drips, and urinary catheters. To be able to lie in bed and pee away was just bliss.
Was your practice supportive?
I did manage to get back to work after six weeks and my ego was slightly dented by the fact that very few of my bonded clients noticed I had gone.
Does every donor meet the recipient?
Why did you do so?
The best bit of the experience has been the fact I have met my recipient. The whole process is carried out anonymously, but recipients are allowed to write a thank you note, via a third party, if they wish. Mine did so, and I expressed a desire to meet her if she was willing. I received a most unexpected phone call not long after. Since then we have kept in fairly close touch and we meet every year on the anniversary of our operation. This is quite rare, and after talking to fellow altruistic donors, I realise what a risk I was taking. She might have died postoperatively, we might not have liked each other, my/her kidney probably isn't going to last her lifetime. Happily none of these has happened yet. She is a lovely person who was dealt a really rough deal and I have been able to help redress the balance between her lot and mine.
How do you feel now?
I am, as far as I am able to tell, as well now, both physically and mentally, with one kidney as I was with two. I have annual check ups and everything is fine apart from a slightly raised creatinine level. And I have the benefit of knowing, certainly at the time of surgery, I was in extremely good working order.
Would you do it again?
If I could give another organ I would. It was a most uplifting experience.
▪ Clare tells her story in a film on YouTube, which can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjL_tCBWzZ0
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