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Donor hero Jim pushes the boat out for Kidney Research UK

27 July 2021

A chance meeting at a funeral was all it took for Angela Deighton’s life to be changed overnight. The 74 year old had suffered from kidney disease since the age of 12, and her kidneys failed completely in 2018.  

On dialysis for a year, Angela was at a funeral when she met Jim Thompson, then aged 78, an old school friend of her brother-in-law Bob. They knew each other vaguely – Jim had pruned a plum tree in her garden – but nothing more.  

However, by the end of the day, Jim had decided he was going to donate one of his kidneys to Angela. 

Angela Deighton and Jim Thompson
Angela Deighton and Jim Thompson in hospital

Angela, a retired teacher, explains, “When I was 12, I was in hospital for many months. At that time, before dialysis and transplants, kidney disease was very serious. But they got me through and I returned to school.

“I had excellent care at the Middlesex and then the Royal Free, and my kidney function was monitored closely, especially while I was pregnant with my daughter Emma in 1980. Once my kidney function got down to 15 per cent in 2018, they discussed the options with me. I chose to go on the transplant list and in the meantime, go on dialysis.”

An amazing offer

Angela’s daughter Emma wanted to be a living donor and donate one of her kidneys. She was a “perfect match” but sadly her kidneys were found to have scarring. “To our great disappointment, the doctors told us they couldn’t let us go ahead,” she says.

Then fate intervened, in the shape of Jim Thompson. “He knew about my situation and I think he thought I was looking a bit pale and wan. He said to me, ‘Would you like my well-travelled kidney?’

“It was an extraordinary thing to happen. He’s not a relative, not even a close friend, just a connection.”

After extensive tests, the Royal Free discovered Jim was a very good match for Angela, and the operation went ahead in August 2019. It was a success for both parties and they recovered quickly.

Angela Deighton havig dialysis
Angela havig dialysis

New found freedom

“After the operation I went home and attended the transplant clinic every week,” says Angela. “I’ve had a few infections and developed pulmonary hypertension, but they check you all the time, and I don’t have any side-effects from the immunosuppressant drugs. I have every confidence in the doctors.  

She adds, “With dialysis, you’re tied to the machine several times a week, although I was lucky that the centre was close to my house.” 

Now, Angela is overjoyed that she can live the life she was enjoying before she started on dialysis. She says, “I’ll feel eternal gratitude to Jim for giving me back my life. I think he’s the most marvellous person in the world. It gave me the freedom to do the gardening I loved to do before and the chance to do things like be at my grandson’s birth.” 

Nine-day canoeing challenge

But the donation was not the end of Jim’s sacrifice. Now aged 80, this remarkable man has just undertaken a nine-day canoe trip from the upper reaches of the Thames to Teddington Lock to raise money for Kidney Research UK and Dementia UK.  

He’s modest about becoming a living donor, saying, “I met Angela at the funeral, I learned about her condition and texted her that evening. It started from there. It was just complete chance that we happened to match.”

Jim recovered quickly from the surgery, although he confesses that the surgeon keeps telling him off for not drinking enough water. But he was fit enough to start contemplating another challenge – his epic solo canoe journey. 

Crowds cheering him on

The retired production project engineer says, “It was a bit risky, but I started near the source of the Thames up at Cricklade, and had to fight my way through the reeds and under fallen trees initially.  

“Then as the river widened, I met the locks, 44 in total. I slept most nights in a small one-man tent, although I was treated to a luxury night and meals in a vicarage of Long Wittenham on one occasion!  

“My son Ivan helped me enormously, opening locks and going down the towpath on the bike drumming up support from boaters and walkers. He cycled hundreds of miles in the end. I wouldn’t have done it in nine days if it hadn’t been for his help opening the locks.” 

He adds, “I got a lot of donations thanks to Ivan, and a whole pub came out to cheer me on! It was really emotional. I came under a bridge and the whole bankside was full of about 100 people cheering and shouting.  

‘There were some issues – I got a puncture early on, and a skiff knocked me into the river – but I made it! The skiff rower helped rescue my belongings and helped me onto the bank.’ 

Jim’s legs suffered a little after the effort of the challenge, as he was mainly using his upper body, and he struggled to walk afterwards. But he’s now back to full fitness and planning his next fundraising challenge, whatever that might be.  

Jim says he’s pleased that Angela can now get back to the gardening she loves, and enjoy spending time with her grandchild. Of his generous, life-changing act, he modestly jokes, “I’d give another kidney, but I’ve only got one left!” 

If you’d like to thank Jim for his extraordinary efforts, it’s not too late to donate to his fundraising page.

Jim Thompson on the river in his canoe
Jim on the river in his canoe

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