This organ donation week, Leicester’s Hospitals is sharing the story of Leicestershire woman, Sam Jewell, who after 1,299 days got the call she’d been waiting for - she was a match for a new kidney and despite lockdown, she could commence surgery imminently.
Sam has an autoimmune disease which significantly affected her kidney function, leaving her extremely unwell and impacting on her ability to live her day to day life.
In 2002, Sam received her first transplant from a family member, but four years ago the kidney began to fail, and she had to go back on to dialysis. Sam started on a dialysis machine overnight at home, and then it became three times a week at a haemodialysis unit, whilst she waited for a donor; little did she know at the time how long this wait might be.
Despite transplants being postponed in late March, when the country went into lockdown, patients were approached about the possibility of having a transplant and were followed up with COVID tests, so as soon as it was safe to operate, the transplant service could quickly resume surgeries.
Thanks to the preparation, Leicester’s Hospitals was one of only four centres in England that had restarted transplant operations by May 2020, with more than 50 people receiving kidney transplants since then.
Sam was one of the first pandemic transplant patients to undergo surgery at Leicester General Hospital during lockdown.
Recounting those life-changing days in May, Sam said: “I carried my mobile phone with me 24 hours a day for four years, sleeping with it, taking it into work meetings, willing it to ring. When the phone rang that day back in May, I felt like I knew it was the call that would change my life, the one I had been waiting for.
“The staff were amazingly reassuring and I clearly remember their kindness, so I didn't feel scared or apprehensive undergoing surgery during the pandemic. I felt ready.”
Much to Sam and the team’s delight, she has made a miraculous recovery since her surgery in May.
Sam said of her recovery journey: “I’ve lived with blood results which were so far out of the normal range for years and lived such a restricted life because of my dialysis routine. Now my blood results are all within a normal range. I feel so well again - it’s as if someone has plugged me in and flicked the switch. Now I’m looking forward to what’s possible, the plans I can make now with my partner, the things we can do now that were just not possible before.”
Mr Bagul, transplant surgeon at Leicester’s Hospitals said: “For patients like Sam, receiving a new kidney not only improves life expectancy but more importantly it dramatically improves quality of life, which was why the team worked so hard to ensure these surgeries happened again as soon as possible.”
As well as May being a significant milestone for Sam, organ donation law in England was changed to become ‘opt out’ meaning adults are considered to have agreed to donation unless a decision is recorded otherwise.
Speaking about her donor, Sam said, “Through their loss of life, my donor has gifted me mine back. I could never repay what they have done for me, but I intend to live an active and full life to make my donor and their family proud. It’s an incredible gift I’ve been given.
“My thanks go to the entire transplant team and staff of ward 17 at Leicester General Hospital. Thanks to them and my donor, I am now looking forward to an incredible future.”
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