The Christmas gift of life
Roslyn Rhind always wondered where her left kidney went. She found out when she read last week's Sunday Star-Times.
The 42-year-old Auckland mother of a 4-year-old daughter is one of just three or four "altruistic kidney donors" a year - people who donate a kidney for one of the 600 people on the waiting list.
Most people in need of a new kidney will get it from a donor who has died, or from a family member or friend. In some cases a person will want to give their kidney to a family member but can't because their blood or tissue type does not match.
This was the case for Hawke's Bay woman Jessica Jones-Wakely, who had been on dialysis for three years. Her aunt Kerryn Jones offered her kidney but it was not compatible.
Thanks to Rhind and a new "paired kidney exchange programme", Jones-Wakely was able to get Rhind's kidney in exchange for Jones donating hers to someone else.
None of the women knew who their kidneys were going to or coming from, as that information is protected by the programme team, headed by Dr Ian Dittmer.
After initially intending to donate to a sick friend before discovering her kidney wasn't needed, Rhind got back in touch with Dittmer and said "I still want to do this". "I just wanted to help someone," she said.
While having tests at Auckland Hospital in the weeks before the operation she met Donna Wells, a Thames mother of two teenage boys. Wells had been on dialysis for six years and was told a live donor had been found with a matching kidney.
"She asked if she was getting mine," Rhind said. "I said ‘I don't think so. My recipient is down the line somewhere'. She said ‘oh, mine's coming up from down the line'."
Over a coffee, they discovered their surgery was the same day, October 31, and they worked out what was happening: Wells was getting a kidney from Jones.
"Meeting Donna really gave me the encouragement to know I was doing the right thing," Rhind said.
"The biggest thing I struggled with was thinking if [daughter] Keira would need my kidney one day. But the team you deal with are so supportive and explained that the odds she would ever need a kidney were one in a million."
She sent a note with her kidney telling the recipient it loved Thai food, so she was happy to read that Jones-Wakely was just as fond of Thai.
"I just feel happy that she's going to have a good life and that I could help her. I didn't do it for any great adulation, for people to tell me I was wonderful or fabulous. It's just my way of helping someone."
Wells had been on the waiting list and on dialysis for six years, in which time three family members and a friend had been unsuccessfully tested to give her a kidney.
"So I just got on with my life and doing my dialysis four times a day," said Wells, who is a business manager at the ANZ bank in Thames.
"Then Dr Dittmer called one day and said there was a possibility of getting a live kidney. I said ‘how the hell is that going to work?'.
"He explained how the exchange programme worked and asked if I would be keen. I said ‘absolutely'."
It's been about seven weeks since she received Jones' kidney.
"I just feel so much better. I thought I felt all right on dialysis but I realise now that I probably wasn't. On dialysis I didn't have a lot of energy and I was often tired. Now I'm finding I've got heaps of energy.
"When I first met Ros and she told me she was giving a kidney as an altruistic donor, I just burst into tears. I said ‘oh my go, if it wasn't for you this wouldn't be happening to me'. We became really good friends.
"We talked about how wonderful it would be to meet the others. When we read the article [about Kerryn and Jess] we were just thrilled."
Jones said she and her niece planned to call Rhind and Wells this weekend and possibly arrange a meeting.
"This has made a special Christmas extra special," Jones said.
Sunday Star Times