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Tale of kidney transported 400 miles from Glasgow to London for transplant

10 February 2023

The true story of a kidney donor and recipient based over 400 miles apart has been told in a new book, with the proceeds being donated to Kidney Research UK. Written from the perspective of both donor and recipient, the book (titled The miracle of live kidney donation – in flies the leading lady) takes the reader through the tense and emotional moments before, during and after the transplant.  

400 miles between kidneys

Margaret McCabe, (then 61), was set to donate her kidney to her cousin Mary Morrison, (then 56), in 2019, but the procedure had just one problem: the donor was in Glasgow, and the recipient lived in Chelmsford and was a patient at the Royal London Hospital.  

Mary’s kidneys were deteriorating due to polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and doctors warned her that she would need a life-saving transplant, or face the rest of her life on dialysis. After Mary’s husband and immediate friends in London were ruled out as possible donors, it was her cousin from Scotland who ultimately stepped up to donate her kidney and allow Mary to live a full life again. Margaret is from a different branch of the family unaffected by PKD, a hereditary condition. 

Margaret McCabe said: “I remember seeing Mary go through the whole ordeal of finding a donor, she looked so tired, and her breathing was just shallow. She told me that her husband Keith’s tests had come back as negative and while she was still waiting for some of her friends to come back, it wasn’t looking positive. In July 2019 I donated one of my kidneys to my cousin Mary because she needed it and I wanted to. It was a very easy choice to make, and although my life was hectic at the time, I knew I needed to step up to the plate. There is nothing I regret about it and If I had a further available spare kidney I would do it again in a heartbeat.” 

Mary Morrison and Margaret McCabe
Margaret McCabe and Mary Morrison

A logistical challenge

The cousins went through tests over ten months to determine whether Margaret would be a match, but doctors also needed to be sure that the organ would survive the flight to the capital. The pair were daunted by the logistical challenge of transporting the organ, but ultimately decided to have the two operations apart.  

Mary Morrison said: “Margaret and I had discussed having the operation in the same building, but we decided that the most important thing was to have both of us surrounded by family as the procedures took place. The hospital kept me informed of when Margaret had finished in the operating room and the organ was in transit. It was a weird feeling and I wondered where the kidney was on its journey down to London. I can remember the moment we were told that the kidney was in the building, a mix of relief, anxiety and worry took over me as I realised that this was really going to happen.” 

Mary Morrison holding her book
Mary Morrison with a copy of her book.

No fairy-tale ending

The operation was a success. Unfortunately, transplants are not a cure for kidney disease, meaning that the book is unable to offer readers a fairy-tale ending. With transplants lasting between 15 to 20 years on average, it is possible that Mary will have to release a sequel.  

With a foreword from footballing legend and transplant recipient Andrew Cole, the book provides transplant patients with helpful insight, especially those preparing for a living donor transplant.  

Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK, said: “When Mary told me of her story, and her plans to write the book I knew that it would bring both comfort and reassurance to others who are facing the turmoil in their lives that the threat of kidney failure brings. Kidney disease has such a profound impact on everyone it touches, and Mary and Margaret have, in a very articulate way, outlined just how much planning and preparation goes into a transplant. We are determined to make transplants last longer and are very grateful to Mary and Margaret for generously donating their proceeds to help this happen.” 

Book launch at the Purple Ball

The book will be unveiled at a popular annual fundraising event in aid of Kidney Research UK. The cousins will introduce their project to guests at the Purple Ball being held at the Radisson BLU Glasgow on Saturday 11 February 2023. 

Read more about people living with kidney disease

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