In August 2020, Pembrokeshire couple, Rob and Christine Thomas, became the first live transplant pair to undergo surgery at the University Hospital of Wales since lock down ended.
In 2010 Rob was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) a genetic disease with no cure where kidneys grow to the size of rugby balls: “I was scared and upset. I’d never heard of PKD and when I looked for more information online, one of the first things I read is that I’d be dead within four years!”. Rob’s two siblings and his daughters have since tested positive for PKD.
Determined to get on with life, Rob remained active and healthy for several years. Rob has been a big supporter of Kidney Wales in the past, as the organiser of the Tenby ‘Walk for Life’ and he took on a 24 hour ride around Wales raising over £7,000.
However, a decline in his kidney function led to increasing tiredness, pain, infections, and ultimately, the need for a transplant.
Christine offered to donate straight away and thankfully she was found to be an excellent match. It was due to the strength of her decision that Rob found it easier to agree to it:
“Had she been hesitant or scared, accepting her gift would have been harder, if not impossible”. Christine explains: “We’ve always been open to discussing the issues relating to PKD, and not bury our heads in the sand when faced with the hard facts. This has helped us a lot.”
Unfortunately, due to the strict measures in place at the hospital to protect the couple from Covid-19, Rob and Christine were unable to spend time together after their operations so they kept in touch via Face Time and WhatsApp. Since then, there have been a few tears and sleepless nights, plus one readmission for Rob. But 4 weeks post transplant they are beginning to see progress, an easing of pain and a significant improvement to Rob’s kidney function. Christine is taking three months leave from work, while Rob continues to shield and work from home:
“I am to self isolate for a further three months due to now being immuno-suppressed, well until a vaccine is found in reality.”
“My operation to transplant wasn’t straight forward as I had to have an emergency operation straight after to reposition the kidney as it was compressed, but the team at The University Hospital Wales in Cardiff were and are amazing!”
For anyone considering living organ donation, Rob and Christine offer this advice:
“Let the professionals deal with the technicalities and have the utmost faith in the surgical teams, as they’re performing these operations daily. Be prepared to drink lots of fluid post transplant, expect the recovery period to be challenging, but know that progress will be made within a few weeks!”
Links to further information:
Across the UK, more than 1,000 people each year donate a kidney or part of their liver while they are still alive to a relative, friend or someone they do not know. The most commonly donated organ by a living person is a kidney. A healthy person can lead a normal life with only one functioning kidney and therefore they are able to donate the other to help someone in need of a kidney transplant.
September is also PKD Awareness Month, with around 70,000 people affected in the UK. See: www.pkdcharity.org.uk