Volunteering widens your horizons
Maria Buckley started volunteering for Kidney Research UK as a community ambassador after she had a kidney transplant in 2020, and the 72-year old from Milton Keynes says it’s been a “very fulfilling” experience.
In her role, Maria talks to people in her local area about her own journey with kidney disease, and she’s the first to admit that she gets just as much out of it as they do. She says, “A lot of people say that I’m helping people by doing this but I also learn so much myself. I think it benefits me more than others.”
Diabetes led to renal failure
Maria was diagnosed with diabetes in her 30s and over the years her renal function deteriorated to the point where she had to start dialysis in 2019. This continued for 18 months before she received a kidney transplant in June 2020 and Maria is now passionate about educating others because she feels she didn’t have access to much information when her kidneys started to fail.
Maria, who’s a retired interpreter, says, “When I was first living with diabetes in the 1980s, the health culture was quite different. You didn’t really get the chance to talk about your condition. You just listened and were told what to do.” She continues, “I didn’t really have any idea about my diabetes. I knew it would affect my kidney and other organs but no one would ever talk about how badly it would affect my kidneys. I never knew that my kidneys were in danger. My kidney was getting worse and I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Maria found that she wanted to connect with other kidney patients when she started peritoneal dialysis but didn’t know how to. Describing the treatment as “challenging and demanding”, she says, “I was mostly housebound and relied on my elderly husband, David, to care for me. The loneliness and anxiety was tremendous. I asked my consultant, ‘Where can I speak to other patients?’ but it wasn’t easy to meet others because of patient confidentiality.”
Helping to raise awareness
Talking about how her outlook changed after her transplant, Maria says, “The surgery extended my life. It was the best gift in the world and the whole experience enlightened me. After my recovery, I decided to help raise awareness of kidney health, and to raise awareness about kidney disease. I joined different kidney patient support groups to learn and to get peer support and I also took part in research projects. And then I became a community ambassador for Kidney Research UK and now I organise talks in local community groups. On World Kidney Day this year I organised an information stand in the kidney clinic in Milton Keynes University Hospital, and chatted to people there, letting them know about the charity’s new Kidney Kit and other activities.”
Maria, who is also on the readers’ panel for the charity (which involves helping to create accurate and relevant content for those suffering with kidney disease), has found that sharing her story has a great impact on her audience. She says, “When I do the talks, I discuss the risks, the symptoms, and how to keep the kidney fit. And I talk about my own journey. So far all of my talks have gone well and occasionally I receive a donation from attendees for the charity.”
She says, “I get a lot of positive feedback from people who come and they’ll say things like, ‘I’m so glad you came, I learned so much. I understand things better now.’ I would definitely encourage others to volunteer as it really widens your horizons and helps you understand other people's difficulties and have empathy for them. Being a volunteer is all about humanity, empathy and strength and it’s helped me to be a better version of myself.”
If you’re interested in joining Team Kidney and representing Kidney Research UK as a volunteer, email [email protected] or, to find out more about the different ways you can help visit our volunteer webpage.
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