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New year, new me – thanks to a new kidney!

Leann Defriend

Most of us like to think of making a fresh start in the new year, but our nurse Leann Defriend (above) really will be following a kidney transplant in 2021.

She returned to our Trust on Monday 10 January, after having her transplant on her 33rd birthday on 29 September 2021.

Having qualified as a nutritionist, Leann’s already used her time recovering to look after herself with healthy eating and exercise, which is even more important to her now to do justice to her donor.

She said: “All I know about my donor is that he was a 39-year-old male. I’m massively grateful for the gift he’s given me and I’m determined to do everything I can to make it last. I feel it’s the least I can do to show respect to him and his family. If his family hadn’t said yes to organ donation I would still be on the transplant list.”

Leann has hereditary kidney disease and had spent three years waiting for a donor kidney. While she knows others who have had a number of heartbreaking calls with an available organ which did not work out, Leann herself was called just once before she had the one that led to her transplant.

She added: “My friend’s dad had six calls before his transplant. They aways bring in more than one close match to see who the organ would be best for.

“I had my first call 12 days before and having got as far as the blood test before being told it wasn’t right for me, I can see how disappointing it is to have it happen just once. The ‘what ifs’ are the worst. Then I got my call at 1.30am on 29 September, I had nothing prepared and given it was my birthday first thought ‘what idiot is calling me now to wish me happy birthday’. I didn’t know what to feel or what to expect and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

Leann in hospital

This time Leann (pictured above in hospital) was taken through all the tests and was prepared for surgery before she finally got the thumbs up that the organ was hers later that morning.

After an hour and a half wait, the operation itself took around three and a half hours and, given her three-year wait, Leann found it hard to get her head around how quickly it all went.

After six days in hospital, she returned to her home in Hornchurch to continue her recovery and found after just four weeks she felt great and has already been reaping the rewards of having more energy, after enduring gruelling kidney dialysis three times a week for three years.

Leann said: “Dialysis was like having a full-time job on top of my full-time job. It was so tiring and it meant I put my life on hold. I stopped dating when I went on its as I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone and you can’t have children when on dialysis, so I stopped planning for the future.

“Now I’m excited about what the future could bring and I’m still passionate about nursing so couldn’t wait to get back to work.”

Leann was unable to continue her role as a senior sister in our Emergency Department during the pandemic as she was on immunosuppressants, so was seconded to our nursing workforce hub last July, which she has returned to.

As well as being passionate about getting back to her nursing career, Leann also wants to use her experience to encourage everyone to be more open with their loved ones about their wishes regarding organ donation.

Despite changes in 2020 meaning people have to opt out of organ donation, rather than opt in, families can still decide not to donate their loved one’s organs, which is more likely to happen if they are not aware of their wishes.

Leann added: “I’ve seen people die while waiting for a transplant, and during the pandemic we lost a few dialysis patients.

“That’s why it’s so important to have those conversations. For black and Asian people, and those of other ethnic minorities, the wait can be even longer because in some cultures organ donation can be a bit of a taboo. So if you want to donate your organs, please ensure your next of kin knows that.”

Leanne supports online campaign, Share Your Wishes, @share_wishes.

To find out more about organ donation, visit organdonation.nhs.uk.

 

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