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My children have their mother back; The failure of her kidneys left Carol Sutton tied to a regime of dialysis four times a day. An anonymous organ donor provided a perfect match, improving Carol's quality of life immeasurably. But as Mel Hunter discovers, there aren't nearly enough donated organs to go around.

Carol Sutton does not mince her words when describing those who refuse to donate their organs.

Although she acknowledges it is a matter of personal choice, she nevertheless believes those who would take a donated liver or kidney, but would not give their own, are nothing short of selfish.

It is a view founded on personal experience. Carol's life was changed last year when she was given the kidney of an anonymous donor.

The 50-year-old nurse at The Birmingham Nuffield Hospital discovered nearly 20 years ago during an operation, that she had been born with cysts on her kidneys.

Five years ago the problem worsened and the tiredness and pain caused by the cysts began to take over her life.

Her kidneys became so enlarged that they put pressure on her other organs pushing them out.

'I looked like I was pregnant,' said Carol, only half joking.

The problem became so bad in 1998, that the mum of two had no choice but to turn to dialysis.

She was given the choice of renal dialysis, meaning hours spent hooked up to a machine, or the less well known CAPD - continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis.

Dialysis of either kind effectively takes over the normal filtering functions of the kidney.

The CAPD method makes use of a natural filtering membrane in the abdomen.

Fluid is passed into the body through a tube and the body's impurities filter through the membrane into the liquid.

Four times a day the toxic fluid in Carol's body had to be removed through the tube into a bag and replaced with another bag of fresh liquid.

Her kidneys were removed to create space in the abdomen for the dialysis to be carried out.

For more than six months the dialysis was part of her life. Four times a day - whether at work or home or even on a night out - Carol would find somewhere quiet and perform the function of her failed kidneys.

The fluid was delivered, via the CAPD unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, to her Northfield home in four week batches.

A shed was erected in her garden purely to cope with the huge amount of equipment involved.

Sometimes, when there were problems with the treatment, she had to be hooked up to a renal dialysis machine.

It was when she was in the unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital that she saw the real misery kidney disease could bring.

'You have to have two needles in your arm and - I don't care what anyone says - it hurts. You are stuck on the machine for at least four hours at a time. You can't do anything.

'There are people who have been going there for five or six years, even longer. They are there for years and years waiting for a kidney.'

For Carol, after she was put on the transplant waiting list in January 1999, the wait was mercifully - and unusually - short. Less than a month later she received the call that a donor had been found.

But it was a race against time to get to the hospital in time for the vital operation.

She was shopping in Windsor while her husband, Carl, was there on business.

Frantic calls to her home, work and relatives failed to find her. It was only when her boss remembered she had mentioned the shopping trip that she could finally be tracked down to the Berkshire town.

She left Windsor at 2.30pm and rushed back to Birmingham. She was wheeled into the operating theatre at 7.45pm on February 4 - and has not looked back since.

'I was lucky. Many people have been on the transplant list for years and are still waiting for a suitable donor to become available. My opportunity came within a matter of weeks.'

The kidney was a 99.9 per cent match and has allowed Carol to live a full life for the past year-and-a-half.

But of course there is another side to Carol's happy story. Her kidney came not only from an anonymous donor. It was a donor who unwittingly changed Carol's life by giving his own. It is an act of generosity all too easily forgotten, she explains.

'When we got into the car in Windsor we thought this is it, all our problems are over.

'Then half-way back we thought we are sitting here celebrating, but there is a family somewhere grieving.

'When you are offered a kidney the fact that someone has died for you is not the first thing you think.'

Her first thought was for her family. Her immediate reaction was that the burden would finally be off Carl and their two children Eve, now 21, and Ben, 19.

A week before Christmas last year, Carol approached the transplant co-ordinator at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to find out the limited information she was allowed to know about her donor.

She was told he was a 42-year-old married man with a young son who had been killed in a road accident.

'I was inconsolable,' said Carol. 'It was Christmas, but for his son it would be the first Christmas without his daddy.'

Carol wrote an anonymous letter to the family which had to be carefully vetted by the transplant co-ordinators both in Birmingham and in the donor's home town. She has not heard back.

Now she is campaigning for others to not only carry donor cards, but also to inform their family of their wishes to have their organs used to save others.

'The system is let down not by people carrying cards, but by donors not telling their families what their wishes are,' says Carol.

'So many people out there are ignoring the fact that carrying a donor card will give someone else a chance if something happens to them. They are also ignoring the fact that just because they are carrying a card does not mean their family will automatically give permission for their organs to be donated.'

For Carol the battle is not necessarily won. Because of damage caused by anti-rejection drugs, the average life-span of a donated kidney is just 12 years.

It means that all those who successfully have kidney transplants will almost certainly need complete strangers to help again.

She admits she tries not to think about what will happen in the future.

'But I hope, not just for myself but for all the people who are waiting, that more people will become donors.

'In the meantime my life and that of my family has been transformed. My children have their mother back and my husband his wife.'
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Author:Hunter, Mel
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 19, 2000
Previous Article:A single donor can save scores of lives; Health Correspondent Jenny Hudson reports on the gift of life.
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