I gave my sister my kidney, but a happy ending was not to be - Catriona Thomson

The gift of life between two sisters was supposed to have a fairy tale ending but, as we all know, life throws you curveballs when you least expect them.

Jenny's wedding day
Jenny's wedding day

My friends and colleagues, Dani Garavelli and John Devlin, had documented our living kidney journey for Scotland on Sunday to raise awareness. I gladly gave my left kidney to improve my sister Jenny's quality of life, as her renal function had been diminished by polycystic kidney disease.

Read More

Read More
Insight: The gift of life for a beloved sister - Dani Garavelli

After an extensive battery of tests and procedures, my left kidney was removed by the transplant team in Edinburgh on 18 November last year and flown down to Cardiff to be implanted in my sister to give her the best possible chance of longevity and a chance of a more normal life.

Jenny Crossley with her younger sister Cat Thomson

Advertisement

Hide Ad

Following my procedure, all went well and, after four days, I was discharged from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to continue recovering at home. I appeared to have luckily sidestepped the very worst of the predicted "you'll feel as if you have been hit by a bus". The overall pain was more uncomfortable rather than excruciating. It felt as if someone had been rummaging around in my innards, which, in truth, they had. But just over two weeks on from my surgery, although tired, I felt I was beginning to heal.

My sister had a series of setbacks in her recovery but the general mood from the professionals was always optimistic. Although still in hospital in Cardiff, it appeared that Jenny would be allowed home to celebrate Christmas.

However, when my brother phoned early on 5 December, I instantly and warily answered, “What's up?” – only for him to break the awful news. Martin, my sister's husband, had been in touch. Jenny's condition had deteriorated suddenly and she had died as a result of bleeding on the brain.

Cat Thomson. Picture: Nina Kunkel

Advertisement

Hide Ad

Cue wave upon wave of gut-churning disbelief, followed by a wall of unbearable sadness; her sudden loss blindsided all our family.

So our Christmas wasn't filled with the usual festive glee. There were poignant tears as presents ordered by my sister before the operation arrived, and joyful cards sent to acknowledge the success of the procedure overlapped and mingled with flowers and wishes of sympathy at the darkest time.

I find it hard to imagine the burden of grief that is felt by her husband and their children, Calum and Ailsa, a houseful of memories filled with a lifetime of little reminders of someone who isn't there. Grief, that aching loss, is sometimes too much to bear.

The initial post-mortem reports were inconclusive, so we have to wait patiently for months for the results of further tests, but there may be no definite reason. Perhaps her body was just too ravished by the onslaught of the disease, or she was just too weakened to recover.

Advertisement

Hide Ad
Jenny Crossley

The reality being, the outcome will not be changed no matter how many tears you cry.

Yet I cling to the optimism of a conversation I had with Jenny just prior to the operation, when she told me what she was most looking forward to when she recovered. It was lovely to hear a tiny sense of anticipation in her voice, a bit of hope that things would get better. I will cherish that happy memory and remain glad that my gift could have potentially made such a huge difference to her, comforted by the fact that I really did everything in my power to make a difference.

My postoperative all-clear meant I was able to attend Jenny's funeral. A few weeks earlier and I'm not sure I would have felt up to it. Instead of a joy-filled family reunion, early January saw my brother, mother and me travel to Wales to say our final goodbyes to Jenny. As we headed to Swansea, out of the car window, I could see nothing but persistent drizzle and industrial chimney smoke blended into leaden skies.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

But it felt right to be present at this end point. A woman of great faith, Jenny's final church service was filled with incisive insights into her character from friends who were also reeling from the news. Simple red roses graced her coffin, like those she held on her wedding day.

The modern miracle of transplantation, despite everyone's best efforts, isn't always a done deal. In spite of the tidal wave of good wishes and optimism, it just didn't work out this time. I take comfort that my kidney was doing its thing, but beyond saddened that our story ended there.

In life Jenny always aimed to do as much good as she could. I'm proud she allowed our story to be told and I hope in some small way it will still help raise awareness of living donation. That would be a beautiful legacy to come out of something so terribly sad.

There are currently 400 people in Scotland in need of a kidney transplant. As with any medical procedure there are risks, but the outcome in this case was exceptionally rare. A kidney transplant from a living donor can be planned to avoid or reduce the time on dialysis and offer a better long-term outcome for the recipient. Living donors do not need to be related; you can donate to friends, colleagues and altruistically to strangers.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

Most recent statistics (March 2021) from NHS Blood and Transplant show that 98.9 per cent of recipients who have received a living kidney transplant from a related donor, continue to have a functioning kidney one year after transplant.

To find out more information and learn about other living donor and recipient stories visit www.livingdonationscotland.org

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.