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Farzana’s experience of receiving a kidney and pancreas transplant

31 May 2024

Receiving a kidney transplant is an emotional time, as patients seek a better future, often waiting years for a donor to be found. A successful transplant provides an alternative to exhausting and restrictive dialysis sessions, offering patients the opportunity to live their lives more freely.

Transplantation is not a cure for kidney disease and is not always successful, but it is generally the best treatment available. A donated kidney lasts an average of just 20 years but can transform the life of a recipient for as long as it functions.

Celebrating a kidneyversary – to mark another year with your donated kidney – is a special occasion, and, for Farzana Topia, from Nuneaton, this May marks her third anniversary. In this article, she shares her experiences of receiving a transplant, and reflects on what this means to her.

Farzana with her friend

A journey of strength

It has been a rollercoaster of tough times and brighter days. From illness to recovery, my journey as a transplant patient has been filled with challenges and victories. I hope that sharing my story will touch both the hearts and minds of readers, highlighting the importance of organ donation, and the huge impact this can have on a recipient’s life.   

A life-altering diagnosis

On my 12th birthday I was diagnosed with diabetes, and for 23 years I faced the daily struggles of managing this condition. I tried to hold on to normality, but often struggled with changes in medication, diet, and hormones as I hit my teenage years. 

Diabetes affected my kidney health, but this was worsened when I injured my shoulder and was prescribed unsuitable medication that caused vomiting, my sugar levels to fall, and led to hospitalisation. I was diagnosed with stage four chronic kidney disease, with my kidney function at around 30%. 

Despite trying to manage my condition, my kidney function steadily declined to stage five, and the prospect of dialysis was round the corner. It was a dark and uncertain time for me. I wasn’t mentally prepared and often spent days crying on my prayer mat as I faced losing my independence. Being unable to support my family financially due to not being able to perform 100% at work was a huge concern.  

Waiting for a transplant

For eight months post-diagnosis, hospital visits were constant. Some days I'd be training for peritoneal dialysis at home, and others I’d be receiving tests to assess my suitability for a fistula for haemodialysis in hospital. The recommended dialysis threshold of 10-15% kidney function was approaching, but at 17% I took the tough decision to delay this treatment in the hope of receiving a transplant instead. 

I discussed the possibility of a synchronised kidney and pancreas (SKP) transplant with doctors, and attended an information session about the intricate process of matching organs to patients. Initially optimistic, my hopes dwindled when I learned that being of an ethnic minority reduced my chances of finding a match. There is a shortage of donors from similar backgrounds, and, while it's theoretically possible to match with someone from a different ethnic group, it's extremely rare. As a woman of mixed Indian and Burmese heritage, I reluctantly let go of the hope I had. 

I reached a moment where I pondered if this was the end and if my life's purpose was fulfilled. I found solace in acceptance, feeling at peace within myself. Small irritations no longer bothered me, and I reflected on my life. I looked over sentimental possessions, like a scrapbook from my time volunteering with children in Slovakia, and my first full-time volunteer role after graduation, with CSV (which we now know as Volunteering Matters). I wished to be remembered for my service, hoping to inspire others in the same way. 

Finding hope again

Just when I was giving up, I found a glimmer of hope through Dr Mahmoud, a locum doctor whom I’m thoroughly grateful to. She managed to pull all my care in to one, ensuring I was kept under her wing, and I had a chat with her senior team and Oxford hospital, who all agreed I was eligible for a synchronised kidney and pancreas transplant (SKP).  

There were lots of risks involved as it’s a major operation, but at this point I didn’t care. I just absorbed all the information I could, as I strongly believe knowledge is power. The transplant offered a chance for better health and freedom in my treatment, injections and diet. It was a lifeline I grabbed onto tightly with lots of prayer. 

On 29 May 2021 at 4.30am, I received a call telling me that a donor had become available and that an ambulance would be with me in half an hour to take me to Oxford Churchill Hospital. I already had a rucksack packed and ready. Nobody was with me during my journey to Oxford except the paramedic who was extremely kind and supportive. I was feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness.  

After seven hours in the operating theatre, and about three days in the intensive care unit, I realised that I had been given the most incredible gift – a new lease of life. Through the kindness of organ donation, I was given a second chance to live fully. The transplant surgery wasn't just a medical procedure; it was a beautiful act of generosity from a gentleman in his 40s who had passed away. His family remain in my thoughts, as I know that whilst I was on the operating table being given the gift of life, they were grieving the death of their loved one.  

Honouring the gift

Today, as I write this whilst ugly crying, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift I've been given. My thanks extend to every organ donor and their families. Their selflessness has changed my life, and other patients’ lives, forever. In their memory, I'm committed to spreading awareness about organ donation, ensuring that hope continues to shine for others in need. 

I urge others to consider becoming an organ donor, as that decision can make a world of difference, offering hope to those facing illness. Once you sign up as a donor, please inform a trusted family member who, on your behalf, will give permission to fulfil your wish after you pass. 

I encourage you all to speak to family and friends about the importance of organ donation too. Let's come together to protect the precious gift of life – one organ at a time. 

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