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“I’m celebrating five years since my transplant, and won’t ever let kidney disease stop me from living my life”

15 May 2024

Proving people wrong is something that Kirran Willerton, 35 from Glasgow, has been determined to do throughout her life. Born with Conradi-Hunermann syndrome – a rare disorder which affects skeletal development – and diagnosed with kidney disease at three years old, Kirran has fought to maintain her independence and fulfil her ambitions. 

Now she is celebrating the fifth anniversary of her kidney transplant - her kidneyversary - and is reflecting on her experiences. 

Kirran says: “My parents brought me up in the same way as my four siblings. Some of my joints haven’t grown the way they should, I’m short in stature and I’m a wheelchair user, but my family have never treated me any differently. Mum and Dad always encouraged me not to let anything get in my way – and nothing really stops me!” 

Kirran doing a selfie picture
Kirran Willerton

Diagnosed as a toddler

Kirran’s belly became swollen when she was just three years old, prompting her parents to take her to their GP surgery. She was then referred to hospital where it became apparent that she had chronic kidney disease – one kidney had been damaged, and the other had stopped functioning altogether. 

Kirran says: “I was in hospital for various operations as a child, so I did miss a lot of school. One of my surgeries was to remove my right kidney, which had died. Thankfully my left kidney, although damaged, kept functioning for 21 years! 

“After my wedding in August 2015, problems started to develop, and my kidney deteriorated to just six per cent function. Haemodialysis became necessary in 2016, and it all happened very quickly. It was hard to accept. I knew dialysis would happen at some point, but when they’re actually preparing the machine for you, it’s a harsh reality.” 

Dialysis is exhausting

Kirran required dialysis for two-and-a-half years, having her left kidney removed in 2017, and finally receiving her transplant in 2019. She says: “Dialysis takes a huge chunk of your life. I was working as a customer service adviser but had to reduce my hours to keep my job alongside my treatment. I was fortunate that my husband's career meant we could afford to put my health first despite my reduction in income. 

“Dialysis had a huge impact on my social time. The weekends were hard because I was restricted to drinking one litre a day from Friday until my next session on Monday. I’d be struggling to breathe because I was overloaded with fluid from the dialysis; it was like someone was sitting on my chest. 

“At one point I wanted to give up. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I felt so exhausted and just couldn’t do it anymore. Talking to my husband helped me carry on. My family and friends were so supportive. 

“I got through it. I was still working and driving my car. I was determined to show people I could still do my job. My motto in life has always been that when someone tells me I can’t do something, I will prove them wrong. 

“I’m so grateful for the support I received from staff at the New Victoria Hospital. They’re so attentive and caring, and that had such a positive impact. It was nice to have a chat and make friends with other patients.” 

Transplant changed my life

In 2019, Kirran finally received the call she’d been waiting for to tell her that a kidney had become available. She says: “My husband and I were in shock. We packed a bag to go to hospital, but we’d forgotten so many things like my toothpaste and toothbrush because we were overwhelmed by the news. 

“I was heartbroken for the family of the deceased donor, who had to say goodbye to their loved one. There were many mixed emotions, but I was so thankful to be receiving a kidney. 

“After the transplant, I was struggling to pass urine as the kidney had fallen into the wrong position. I needed another operation and was told when they took the kidney out to reposition it, that it may die, and they might not be able to put it back in.  

“The thought of having to go back onto dialysis was scary, but, luckily for me, they put it back in and it has worked like magic. I’ve been able to increase my days at work, go out more, and eat and drink more. It has been great – a whole new world.” 

Hopes for the future

Since her transplant, Kirran has also become a mother for the first time. She says: “Being a mum is great. My son has changed my life for the better. He’s two years old now and such a character. He’s such a people person, he’s sharing and kind. 

“I just want to live my life with my family. Making sure my son is happy, and for him to grow up knowing that, although things happen in life, you can get through them. 

“I know that my journey with kidney disease isn’t over and that I will probably need dialysis again in the future. I worry for my son because I want him to be at an age where he can understand what is going on. 

“I hope research into kidney disease will mean dialysis is shorter and the machines are more compact, so it allows patients a lot more freedom. Smaller needles which leave less scars would be great too. Being able to dialyse from anywhere with less hassle would be amazing. 

“Being a wheelchair user, driving, working, and then also dialysing was hard, but I want to show people that it doesn’t matter what kind of disability you’ve got, there is a way, and you can get through it.” 

Man at a table with two cards being displayed saying 10 Kidneyversary and 27 kidneyversary

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