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Mother and daughter celebrate kidney transplant success four decades on

17 August 2023

The Glasgow Bridges Walk on 20 August marked a major milestone for Cheryl Malko and her mother Kathleen Noonan.

40 years ago, Kathleen donated one of her kidneys to Cheryl – who was then just five years old – and both mother and daughter are still in good health.

Cheryl Malko as a small child being held by a nurse in hospital
Cheryl Malko in hospital when she was a toddler

Cheryl's kidney journey

Kathleen, 67, kept a detailed diary throughout Cheryl’s early years, documenting the ups and downs of her kidney treatment journey and her eventual life-saving transplant.

Cheryl, now 45, was nearly two years old before doctors discovered she’d been born with poor kidney function. X-rays showed that both kidneys were on her right side, were too small, and weren’t working properly. She also had very high levels of urea in her blood.

This helped to explain the many health issues she’d endured as a baby.

“Her appetite was poor, she would become distressed if encouraged to put weight on her legs and she didn’t like lying on her tummy,” says Kathleen, who also recalls her daughter’s colouring as being “yellowish”.

Unable to sit up unsupported until she was at least nine months old, Cheryl’s milk teeth developed more slowly than normal, while a lack of calcium in her bones caused renal rickets.

As time went on, Cheryl’s kidney function continued to deteriorate so, shortly before her fourth birthday, she began continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) via a permanent cannula fitted in her stomach.

“Cheryl’s bedroom looked a bit like a hospital room with all the equipment and supplies needed for her dialysis,” says Kathleen, a retired NHS worker. “But she was such a happy little girl – always smiling.”

An option of a kidney transplant

With a kidney transplant now the only long-term option, Kathleen didn’t have to think twice about donating one of hers.

After tests confirmed she was a suitable donor, the transplant finally went ahead on 1 November 1983, at what is now the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow.

The operation was a success and just over three weeks later, Cheryl was allowed home – much to the delight of her older sister, Katrina.

Despite everything she went through, Cheryl believes the challenges she faced as a little girl may have benefited her in the long run.

“I think it’s made me a stronger person and I can take on what life throws at me,” she says. “I’ve been lucky.”

Transplant lasting 40 years

Four decades on, Kathleen still marvels at Cheryl’s sunny, uncomplaining outlook.

“I’m so proud of the way she’s dealt with everything,” says Kathleen. “When I looked back at my diaries and read everything she’s been through, it made me realise how ill she actually was. But we just got on with things and, through all that, Cheryl built up an amazing resilience.”

Cheryl and her mum are now excited to be taking part in our Glasgow Bridges Walk later this month, having been amazed at the progress kidney treatment had made since Cheryl’s transplant.

“I’ve got a huge scar from where my kidney was removed, but nowadays keyhole surgery is the norm,” says Kathleen. “I’m fascinated by all the advances in dialysis and the transplant process over the last 40 years and that’s all down to research. It’s so important that it continues, which is why we need to raise as much money for Kidney Research UK as possible.”

Cheryl Malko and her mother Kathleen Noonan.
Mother and daughter, Kathleen and Cheryl.

Fundraising for research

It’s not the first time the pair have raised funds for the charity. During the Covid19 pandemic, Cheryl and her mum did their own walk around Edinburgh’s bridges, raising £500.

Walkers waving and wearing their Kidney Research UK t-shirts at Glasgow Bridges Walk
Glasgow Bridges Walk 2023

“It was really beneficial, because Cheryl had been totally isolated during lockdown due to being on immunosuppressants,” says Kathleen. “So it was a great way of getting out and about.”

Unsurprisingly, the mother and daughter duo are incredibly close and say they will spend the Glasgow Bridges Walk feeling grateful for the many happy years they’ve shared since their surgery.

“I will think about how lucky we are to have had all this time,” says Cheryl, a supermarket customer services assistant in Edinburgh. “Mum’s kidney has lasted so long and I’ll always be really grateful.”

Kathleen adds, “Our bond is incredible. She’ll always be my wee girl, even though she is now in her 40s.”

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