Why I didn’t hesitate to give my brother my kidney

When Darren was told he had end stage kidney disease, his sister didn’t hesitate to offer him one of her kidneys. The Perth siblings told Insight where the journey of organ donation led them.

DARREN

I had no idea I was suffering from chronic kidney disease until a blood test showed the markers for it. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office being told I had an extremely low kidney function and when words like "chronic", "failure", "damage" and "dialysis" were being said I went numb. While the doctor was busy trying to explain some of the results to me, I started to drift off, already thinking of how I was going to deal and cope with this. 

My sister, Fallon, who was with me at the doctor’s office, volunteered pretty much straight away to undergo testing to see if she could give me a kidney. I was blown away by her instant willingness as I had not even thought of asking any family members. But once Fallon decides she wants to do something there isn't anyone who can stop her.

Fallon was eventually revealed to be a perfect match. The match up process is done by looking at human leukocyte antigens (HLA) in the blood. Six specific antigens are looked at for suitability for transplantation. If a person matches say three out of the six that would still be a decent enough suitability. We matched 12/12, which practically makes us twins, which given we are eight years apart in age (I'm 42 and Fallon is 34) was crazy.

Fallon
Darren and Fallon pictured the night before surgery in Darren's room at the Fiona Stanley hospital in Perth.
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When the day came for us to have our operations, I was more nervous about Fallon as it was her first ever major surgery. I was waiting in the pre-op room and felt immediate relief when a nurse came through and told me Fallon was awake, it was a success and she had given the nurse a thumbs up. To know that she was okay made me more at ease for my turn.

I was pretty lucky to not have had any complications from the surgery so most of my recovery was about giving myself time to heal and also to process the enormity of what had just happened. It felt to me like my recovery was a lot easier than what my sister had to experience.

Looking back, there aren't many words around to describe the feeling you have when somebody risks their life to save yours. Gratitude would be one of them though. She spared me many years of having to endure dialysis treatments while waiting for a deceased donor, which has allowed me to return to leading a normal life.

To this day we get together every year on the date of the surgery, June 30, to reunite the beans, as we refer to the two kidneys, and to reminisce about what we both went through. Even though she protests, I give her presents to show my appreciation and remind her that her generosity will never be forgotten.

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This Insight guest reveals her heartache and subsequent journey to acceptance after her sister died and her organs were donated to Tracey.
This Insight guest reveals her heartache and subsequent journey to acceptance after her sister died and her organs were donated to Tracey.

FALLON

I had been going to some appointments with Darren to support him through his ill health, and I was trying to maintain a positive outlook. It was absolutely heartbreaking to have our greatest fears realised when we were told that it was definitely kidney disease, and that it had progressed to end stage. My heart absolutely sank, but I wasn’t about to stop fighting and give up.

As we tried to process the news, the doctor began to tell us about our options, like starting dialysis and applying to be put on the transplant list. At the time, the average wait time for a kidney was around seven years. That’s when I spoke up and asked if I could be tested as a potential donor. If I matched, it would mean that Darren could be spared years of dialysis treatments. It also meant a pre-emptive kidney transplant (meaning transplants performed before starting dialysis), which have much better success outcomes overall. For me, it wasn’t even a question. If I could help Darren, I would do anything in my power to do that.

On the day of the surgery I felt calm and ready, however, once we got to the hospital the nerves started to kick in! I was relieved that the day was finally here but still nervous for what was to come. I just wanted to skip to the end and hear that the surgery was a success. I hugged my husband and my mum and dad and before I knew it, I was being wheeled into theatre.

Fallon
Fallon pictured just before going into surgery.
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I had never had any major surgery before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It definitely wasn’t easy! It was a slow recovery, and I was really wiped out for the first few weeks. I went back to work after six weeks and remained on light duties for a few weeks after that. Although my recovery was tough, seeing how Darren’s condition improved so much, and how he continues to thrive, I’d still choose to do it all over again.

Darren and I were close growing up, but we’re even closer now than we were before. Going through something like that together really bonded us. We have since continued to talk about our story through transplant seminars at the Fiona Stanley hospital in Perth. We’ve also started a business together called Fit-Squirrel. We create quality activewear pieces that encourage healthy movement and exercise, and we donate $1 from every item sold to our charity partners Kidney Health Australia. We try to support people living with chronic kidney disease, just like us.

I want people to know how important it is to look after your kidney health. You can lose up to 90 per cent of kidney function before showing any symptoms, so getting regular blood tests to check on your kidneys is so important. I’d also encourage people to consider registering to become an organ donor. By becoming an organ and tissue donor, you can save up to eight lives.

Kidney disease affects one in 10 Australians so Kidney Health Australia is urging Australians to take a kidney risk test via their website or to visit their GP for a kidney health check.

Source Insight