Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Three-way kidney transplant success

By Graham Satchell
BBC News Breakfast reporter

Chris and Lisa
Chris Brent with his sister Lisa Burton

Step back to nine in the morning on 4 December 2009.

Six patients are ready for surgery at three different hospitals across the UK.

It is the culmination of months of preparation and a remarkable event in the history of live organ donation in this country.

This is a three-way kidney swap between couples who've never met.

It's a threefold thing really so it's a real good feelgood factor all round
Lisa Burton, who donated a kidney

In Aberdeen, 54-year-old Andrea Mullen suffered sudden kidney failure three years ago.

It had a devastating impact on her life. She had to have dialysis three times a week.

She said: "It was just an existence, it really was.

"It was terrible being ill all the time. As far as I was concerned it just ruined my life. It just totally ruined my life and I hated it."

Her husband Andrew, 53, was prepared to donate one of his healthy kidneys but he wasn't a match.

Six hundred miles away in Hastings on the south coast of England, there was a similar story. Chris Brent, 42, also needed a transplant.

His sister, Lisa Burton, who is 45, was happy to give him one of her kidneys, but again there was no match.

And in St Albans in Hertfordshire, newly-wed Lynsey Thakrar, 30, wanted to donate one of her kidneys to her husband Teemir, but she too wasn't a compatible donor.

Precious gift

The solution - to pair up the couples - has only been possible since a change in the law in 2006.

Under strict supervision the Human Tissue Authority now allows so-called pooled transplant arrangements - matching up couples all over the country.

When Chris Brent heard about the change he was desperate to be involved. "I jumped at the chance to get a new kidney," he said.

In the US they are already doing up to 12 pairs at once - so that's something to aspire to
Renal surgeon Vassilios Papalois

Teemir felt the same. "Even though I knew I wouldn't be getting my wife's kidney, you're effectively going to be getting a kidney from somebody that is doing the same for their loved one. So it was just an amazing thing that could happen."

The surgery took place at two hospitals in London - Hammersmith and Guy's and St Thomas' - and the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh.

It required enormous planning. Three kidneys removed from healthy patients, transported all over the UK and transplanted into the recipients on the same day.

Vassilios Papalois, consultant renal surgeon at Hammersmith, said: "The surgery was a success and I hope we can do more paired and pooled transplants. In the US they are already doing up to 12 pairs at once - so that's something to aspire to."

The result of the surgery has been dramatic. Three months on all six patients are doing well.

Quality of life

In Hastings, Chris Brent, who had seven years on dialysis, lost his job and became depressed, says the transplant has given him a chance for a new start in life.

"Literally as you wake up out of the anaesthetic you feel better," he said.

"I just want to live a fairly normal life again. Go back to work, get out and about more. Have a life rather than just existing."

In Aberdeen, Andrea and Andrew are planning their first holiday in years.

"I feel like I've got my life back," said Andrea. "I've got more energy. I'm eating better and it's great."

And in St Albans, Teemir and Lynsey, who were married last year, say they are now ready to start a family.

"Now that I'm off dialysis," says Teemir, "the future is a normal family life. In time we hope to have children. It's something we couldn't contemplate this time last year."

As for the donors, they all say they are proud to have given up one of their kidneys - even if they have ended up in strangers they've never met.

"I'm absolutely delighted that Chris can have a normal life now," says his sister Lisa, "and all the other people can as well. It's a threefold thing really so it's a real good feelgood factor all round."

Complex

"It is a little odd," says Lynsey. "But in the end it wasn't that I didn't give any thought to donating my kidney. It was that I didn't need to give it any thought. He's the man I love. He's the man I want to spend every day of my life with. I want him healthy and if it means giving my kidney to a stranger so be it."

Vicki Chapman, director of policy and strategy at the Human Tissue Authority, said: "These are the first transplants of their kind to happen in the UK. The HTA has to pay particular attention to these types of donation as the issues are particularly complex when more people and more centres are involved."

There are 7,000 patients currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the UK.

One in three kidneys used in transplants now comes from a living donor.



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