GILL Redmond did not need to worry about what present to buy her husband for Christmas: she’d already given him the gift of life by donating him one of her kidneys.
Mum-of-two Gill stepped up to help when Mark became seriously ill with kidney failure and, without a transplant, was facing up to a life on dialysis.
Now, just months on from surgery, the couple are starting 2017 by preparing to take on a new challenge: a 66-mile cycle around Loch Ness to raise awareness of organ donation.
The pair will take part in Etape Loch Ness on 23 April to show that life goes on for those who have had surgery.
Gill, 47, said: “To be honest, I’m more petrified about this than I ever was about the operation. But we are both determined to complete it to show that there is life after a transplant.
“What this whole experience has taught us is that you only have one life. You have to crack on and pack as much into it as possible, and not waste any opportunity that comes along.
“A year ago, it would have been inconceivable for Mark to have considered doing this. This was a no-brainer for me. We encountered a problem and we needed a solution: I had the solution that could fix the problem.”
Mark, 51, first became aware of a kidney problem during a routine medical in 1995. He was in the Royal Air Force at the time, flying Nimrods out of RAF Kinloss, and was diagnosed with Berger’s Syndrome.
Although it did not affect him at the time, Mark experienced a drop in kidney function about seven years later and it became difficult for his kidneys to flush out toxins.
His condition gradually deteriorated to the point where he was told that dialysis or a kidney transplant was his only chance of survival. Gill and daughters Neve, 18, and Katie-Anne, 15, noticed a huge change in his health.
By this time he had retired from the RAF and was working in Aberdeen in the oil industry, but was unable to complete his daily commute without stopping off for a nap in the car. Doctors told Mark that a kidney from a sibling was his best chance of finding a match – but as an only child this was not an option. This was when Gillian, his wife of 26 years, asked doctors if she could be considered as a donor.
Mark said: “It was initially very hard for me to accept. I did not want to have a kidney from her Gill because I did not want to put her through any unnecessary suffering or put her at risk. It took me quite a while to get my head around the fact that Gill wanted to do this.
“My doctors at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary – who I have to say, along with all the medical professionals we have encountered in the NHS, were absolutely outstanding and for whom I have nothing but praise – convinced me that there were no risks to Gill other than those normally associated with any kind of surgery.
Gill and Mark have since convinced more than 40 members of their family and friends to sign up for the national organ donation register, and hope that by taking part in Etape Loch Ness they will be able to highlight the critical shortage of organ donors.
Mark said: “Transplants not only save lives, they change lives. If one person consents to organ donation when they pass away, they can benefit seven other people. That’s seven lives that can be completely transformed.
“I hope that Gill and I can encourage people to talk about it with their families, and to take that step to register.
“That’s how easy it is to save a life.”