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Deborah’s story – alive thanks to pioneering transplant technique

Deborah Bakewell is alive and well today, thanks to a pioneering transplant technique developed with our funding.

Deborah Bakewell lives in Lincoln with her husband, she is a mother and step-mother and doting grandmother to five beautiful granddaughters.

Before retiring Deborah was the Office Manager and Property Appraiser for Belvoir Lettings in Lincoln, and had previously worked for 26 years with Nat West Bank in London, Peterborough and then Lincolnshire.

Kidney disease runs in Deborah's family, her mother, grandmother and nephew all had the disease. Deborah was just 23 when she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a condition that causes small fluid-filled cysts to form in the kidneys.

The cysts enlarge, forming balloon-like swellings that gradually replace normal kidney tissue and reduce kidney function. This can cause kidney failure and death at any age.

Deborah says “I was in my mid 20s when I was diagnosed with PKD but it didn’t really begin to affect me until my 40s. You think that in the bloom of your youth it’s never going to happen to you and it all seems very far off. I had moved out and had married before my mum was actually diagnosed and starting to dialyse so I didn’t recognise what she had to cope with.”

Deborah Bakewell

When Deborah started to feel the effects of kidney disease, she started to explore her options to improve her quality of life.

“All of a sudden my condition started to really catch up with me. I was working full time and had no energy. I was continually having to rest and it’s quite a shock that all of a sudden you’ve got to change your lifestyle abruptly because of something that is going to slow you down and potentially kill you.”

Deborah’s husband volunteered to be tested as a living donor but he had high blood pressure issues and couldn’t proceed. Deborah’s only option was to start dialysis.This was then an essential but temporary measure for Deborah.

“I felt a lot better on dialysis but it’s not a cure, it’s just a way of getting through the day. I was dialysing nine hours a night for seven nights a week. This meant I was in bed at 7.30pm, connected to a machine and I would be stuck there for the rest of the night. It was frustrating being held to ransom by a dialysis machine.

Deborah joined the 6,000 other people on the transplant list waiting for a donor kidney to become available. She knew the sad statistics: that only 3,000 operations are carried out each year, and that every day, one person dies waiting for a new kidney.

“When I was on the transplant list I was very worried about the shortage of transplant kidneys. The shortage worried me so much that I thought I would never ever get a kidney transplant and have the opportunity to have a normal life.”

Deborah spent three years on dialysis before she finally got the call she had always hoped for, she was going to have a transplant. Deborah was the first person in the world to be given a kidney revived using a new technique called normothermic perfusion. Professor Mike Nicholson and his team at Leicester General Hospital developed this process with funding from Kidney Research UK.

Deborah Bakewell with grandchildren

In this new approach, fresh blood is pumped through the donor kidney before the transplant operation. This allows surgeons to check the health of the kidney beforehand and to prime it with medicine to reverse any damage done to the kidney while it has been stored in ice. This gives the operation the best chance of success.

Deborah says “In 2010, I was given the opportunity to receive a donated kidney, although it was damaged. Professor Nicholson explained that his team had researched a new process that could make the kidney viable. I jumped at the chance as I trusted the Professor’s judgement that the time was right to try this technique out on a person. I also had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Deborah now feels like she has her life back. "On my 60th birthday we went to a World buffet in Nottingham after we'd all played indoor golf! It was such a special occasion as I honestly never thought I'd see 60!

"And now I can go to the theatre. Recently I went to see Macbeth performed at Tolethorpe Hall, Stamford and I would never have been able to do this, in my 'past life', as 15 minutes BEFORE the performance started I would have been connecting myself to a kidney machine!

"I feel as if I have won the lottery and got the jackpot. I feel so sorry that there are so many people who haven’t had the opportunities that I have had. Research needs to go on by being funded and supported to ensure that people like me can also feel like they have won the lottery.”

As the first project to be funded through the making every kidney count appeal, Professor Nicholson will go on to complete a larger project involving three major hospitals and take his revolutionary technique to the next level.

Read about the new technique we have funded called normothermic perfusion.

Living proof research saves lives

Deborah was the first person in the world to be given a kidney revived using a new technique called normothermic perfusion. Professor Mike Nicholson and his team at Leicester General Hospital developed this process with funding from Kidney Research UK.

Our life-saving research is only possible with your support.

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