A RENOWNED deer farmer has helped set up a new donor campaign and revealed how he donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.
John Fletcher is a respected venison producer with an array of A-list customers including television chefs Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith and Gordon Ramsay.
But he has kept his proudest achievement to date – donating one of his kidneys to a mother-of-five he had never met – from the public until now.
Fletcher, 65, said his own doctor “asked if he was bonkers” when he told him about his plan to become what is known as an “altruistic donor”.
Now he has co-founded a campaign called “Give a kidney – One’s enough” to encourage more people to follow suit, insisting it could save 300 lives in the UK every year.
A spokeswoman for NHS Blood and Transplant, which co-ordinates donor services, said: “What John’s done is amazing, it is really selfless for someone to donate altruistically to someone they don’t know. Three people die every day waiting for a kidney donor and acts like this really speak for themselves.”
Fletcher, from Auchtermuchty, in Fife, said: “Other people seem to think it was a bigger deal than I do but I’d do it all over again if I could. Maybe it’s because I am a farmer that I am less squeamish.
“Not enough is done by politicians to promote this. There should be a major drive to get more people to come forward for if enough people did this then no-one would have to wait for an organ donor, let alone have to die waiting.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve never been out of work and I’ve had lots of opportunities. To me it is like giving blood and thousands of people do that. I didn’t know who’d get my kidney but I knew they would be in desperate need of it and figured I only needed one anyway.”
He decided to become a living donor three years ago after reading about the number of people on waiting lists for transplants. He got a mixed reaction from his friends and family and recalls how one of his two daughters was angry with his plan and that his GP was taken aback when he told him. His wife, Nichola, stood by his decision although she told him how nervous she was about him undergoing what is major surgery.
Prior to the operation, Fletcher had to undergo months of tests and had to see a psychiatrist to discuss his motives and to ensure he knew what the process entailed. He was advised to lose some weight and get as healthy and fit as possible.
Once he had passed all the tests, his details went on a list and within weeks he was deemed a near-perfect match and was admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for surgery. He spent four days there before going home to recover.
Fletcher said: “It was odd, having to go under the knife when there was nothing wrong with me and I did not have a clue who would get the kidney. I asked the surgeon if he was nervous, I always got that way when operating on animals. But he said he was far from nervous, more excited. And that was that.
“It is major surgery and I don’t like hospitals very much. But it’s the best thing I ever did, and it was much less physically demanding than I expected.”
He later received a letter out-of-the-blue from the woman who received his kidney, thanking him for changing her life. He found out she was a young person with five children aged under ten. The pair have not met and Fletcher says that now he knows she is alive and well, he doesn’t need to know any more.
At present, 6,500 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the UK where there are only 2,500 kidney transplants a year.
Until 2006, all living donors were either relatives or friends of people who received a kidney transplant. But new guidance under the new Human Tissue Act advises altruistic kidney donation is permitted, although to date fewer than 100 potential live donors have come forward.
Fletcher, who recently sold his business but still runs a deer farm, only told a handful of people about his donation but has now decided to go public in the hope more will follow his example.
He is also critical of the Scottish Government for not doing more to encourage people to become organ donors before or after death.
He said: “If Scotland had more kidneys available, the waiting list for transplants would shrink. In human terms, many more people could come off dialysis and regain their health and independence.
“Giving a kidney can be difficult decision to make, but if there’s anything that distinguishes us from animals, it’s the ability to act altruistically.It’s just a few weeks out of your life to save someone else’s. And I do not regret it for a minute. I can look at myself and be thankful I have done something useful.”
For more information visit www.giveakidney.org.