Mothers dilemma: which son should I save?

Key points

• Campbell twins suffer from hereditary potentially fatal kidney disease

• Only donor match is Mother who must make choice to save one son

• Plight of Campbell family highlights transplant organ shortage on NHS

Key quote

"I think about it all the time. I would give up my life for my children but there’s only one of me and two of them. I couldn’t give a kidney to one and leave the other" - Melanie Campbell

Story in full MELANIE Campbell is locked in a dilemma every mother would dread - she can save the life of one of her seriously ill sons but the other would face death.

Today she has said she cannot make that choice and that could mean both will die.

Luke and Ashley Campbell, both 14, who were born with their triplet sister Sinead, both suffer from cysts on their kidneys - a condition that will become fatal without a transplant.

Their mother is a perfect tissue match for both boys, but can only donate one of her kidneys and is facing choosing one over the other.

Their plight has again highlighted the chronic shortage of transplant organs available to seriously ill patients in Britain.

It will also increase pressure on the government to overhaul the law after attempts at both Holyrood and Westminster to introduce a system of "presumed consent" were thrown out by Labour ministers.

Mrs Campbell, 35, of Newport, South Wales, said last night the boys’ illness had put her under an almost intolerable strain, especially once she learned she was a perfect tissue match for both.

She had hoped that she and her husband Steve, a 36-year-old army sergeant, could both help the boys by donating one kidney each.

However, she was horrified to find that only she shared the same blood group and tissue type as Luke and Ashley.

Mrs Campbell summed up her dilemma: "What would I have to do - toss a coin?"

She went on: "I think about it all the time. I would give up my life for my children but there’s only one of me and two of them.

"I couldn’t give a kidney to one and leave the other. I love my boys so much. I’d do anything to protect them. It would be easy if there were just one, but I can’t save them both and I just cannot choose one.

"I wouldn’t want one of them to grow up and ask: ‘Why did you choose him instead of me?’"

Luke and Ashley were diagnosed with the hereditary condition - familial juvenile nephrophthisis. Both Mr and Mrs Campbell carry the gene which affects boys, however their triplet sister Sinead is not affected.

The boys, who must undergo dialysis treatment eight hours a day, six days a week, have been waiting 20 months for suitable organs to become available.

Although they are facing their medical treatment bravely, the family has had to accept that time is running out to find a donor to help them.

Mrs Campbell, yesterday described the moment when the family was told of the illness affecting both boys.

She said: "I was absolutely devastated. I can remember going into a room and I just wanted to punch somebody. I felt so angry.

"Steven and I both carry the gene, but we did not know it.

"We’d never even heard of this thing before - but it has had a huge effect on our lives.

"Luke and Ashley have been very brave. They don’t complain but they are going through it.

"They are very close and which ever one goes first for the transplant, the other will be supporting him all the way."

The Campbells were told early last year by the consultants at Bristol Children’s Hospital caring for Luke and Ashley that a transplant was the only option if the youngsters were to lead a normal, healthy life.

Mrs Campbell said children normally get a new kidney within four to six months but Luke and Ashley have waited longer because of their rare tissue.

Since the boys were born the family has lived in Hong Kong and Germany, where their father was based.

When they returned to Britain and lived in Oxfordshire it became clear the boys were not growing as quickly as Sinead and doctors did blood tests.

Mrs Campbell said: "It was then that doctors found an abnormality in their kidney function.

"The condition has worsened in the last few years and they get tired very easily."

But the two boys, who go to Bassaleg Comprehensive in Newport, are typical teenagers who play computer games and go swimming - although they are not allowed to play their favourite sport, rugby.

Mrs Campbell, who carries a pager in case a kidney becomes available, admitted the situation dominates their lives.

She said: "We are on call round the clock. Even if we go out for the evening one of us doesn’t drink just in case. We could get a call at any time of day or night."

Mrs Campbell criticised the transplant system in Britain where people have to carry a donor card if they want their organs to be used after death.

Even if a consent card has been signed, families can withhold consent.

She said she supports the campaign to adopt an "opt-out" scheme where people have to declare they do not want their organs used.

Her efforts to help her sons have also included fund raising for research charities and next year she plans to run a half marathon to raise funds for the National Kidney Research Fund.

She also raised more than 1,200 in Germany with a parachute jump, while two years ago she and sister, Julia, abseiled down a 12-storey hospital building.

Now Mrs Campbell has said she cannot possibly choose between her sons and will not make a choice now but, despite the already long wait for a suitable other donor, hopes she will not have to.

"When a kidney becomes available the doctors will decide which of the boys needs it most urgently.

"Then, all being well, I will give one of my kidneys to the other twin. It is the only way we can do it - if the decision was left to me it would be impossible."

Bill O’Neill, the Scottish secretary, of the British Medical Association, said the Campbell case underlined the need for reform of the law.

He said: "Clearly this is a devastatingly sad example of a dilemma that is created when there are insufficient organs for transplantation. There needs to be a change to a system of presumed consent to reverse the chronic shortage of transplant organs in Britain."

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