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When the police knock at your door at 1am, you don’t expect to be offered a transplant

27 March 2023

Wakefield man recalls the bewildering moment he was woken twice in the middle of the night to find he had kidney disease and needed a transplant.

Liam Howorth, a property sourcing manager from Wakefield, has recalled the bewildering moment he was woken to find police at the door at one o’clock in the morning. In 2016, Liam knew that something was wrong with his health, but had no idea that he was going though kidney failure.

Liam on the beach drinking coffee
Liam had no idea that his kidneys were beginning to fail

Worsening symptoms

As his symptoms became progressively worse, he visited his GP almost weekly, but his doctors were unable to join the dots until he was eventually offered a blood test.

At 1am, the night of the test, Liam suddenly woke to the sound of someone at his front door. Looking out of the window, he saw an ambulance. With it was an out-of-hours doctor who told the then 32-year-old that he was in renal failure and needed to go to the hospital straight away.

Feeling bewildered and as if he was dreaming, Liam made his way to A&E where further tests took place. He was shocked to find out that he had just 4% kidney function and would need to start dialysis immediately.

Liam recalled: “I can remember vividly the doctor on call reeling off a number of symptoms and each one I had been experiencing and taken to the GP. I had no knowledge of kidney disease before I crash landed in A&E that night. I really did think that they’d give me some medication and I’d be on my way, but that wasn’t the case at all.”

Shock diagnosis

Biopsy results found that Liam’s kidneys had been scarred, the most likely cause was from medication he took for an existing condition, ulcerative colitis. Mesalazine can cause kidney problems, but Liam was in the dark and didn’t know he needed to check his kidney function regularly.

It was on this night that Liam started his journey onto the gruelling treatment of dialysis. Given some material to read, he was overwhelmed, with no time to get to grips with his new life-long condition. Needing to make an urgent decision about life-saving treatment, he decided to opt for in-hospital dialysis while he waited for an all-important transplant.

12 months on from his shock diagnosis, Liam was on holiday in North Yorkshire, when again he was woken up at 1am, this time by a policeman banging at his door. Having forgotten to tell the transplant centre that he was going on holiday and not having phone signal, the hospital had sent the police to track him down.

Husband and wife Liam and Jo
Liam and his wife Jo had no idea that he would fall into renal failure

Liam continued: “I thought I was dreaming again; I opened the door to see the police standing in the doorway and the first thought was obviously what have I done! They explained that a kidney had become available, and they needed me to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I even used their radio to communicate with the transplant team and confirm that I was coming, albeit still in my pyjamas.”

The transplant went ahead and Liam was free from dialysis. Sadly, the new organ didn’t flourish, never functioning much above 20% and lasted just five years. This was unlucky, as donor kidneys usually last 20 years, on average.

Liam is currently recovering from a second kidney transplant which he had over Christmas. Reaching around 60% function, the new organ will allow him to live life to the full again and he hopes it will last longer than the first. But the shock of crashing into renal failure stay with him forever.

Kidney health check

Sandra Currie, chief executive at Kidney Research UK said: “Liam’s story is unfortunately one that occurs far too often. Kidney patients often show very few symptoms and remain undiagnosed and unaware of the condition that will impact their lives forever. If more people understand and monitor their kidney health, we can prevent or slow down progression towards kidney failure and stop patients from ‘crash landing’ in hospital, needing urgent treatment to keep them alive.”

We estimate that of the 3.5 million people currently living with kidney disease around one million are unaware that they even have the condition. Take our free online health check to find out if they are at risk of kidney disease.

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