The Lancaster woman who donated her kidney to a complete stranger

PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 January 2014

Jan Shorrock

Jan Shorrock

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Jan Shorrock gave someone she doesn’t know the ultimate gift - one of her kidneys. She spoke to Sue Riley

This time last year Jan Shorrock was just about to undergo her first operation; it was one she didn’t need but she chose to have it to help a complete stranger she will never meet. By donating one of her healthy kidneys, Jan became part of a group of fewer than 250 people in the UK who are altruistic donors.

She knew she would become a donor the moment she heard a Radio 4 programme about it a couple of years ago. The 37-year-old regularly donates to charities, gives blood and she is on the bone marrow register. ‘The reason I gave blood in the first place is I would want to receive it or for a family member receive it if needed. It’s the same principle, I am lucky to be fit and healthy,’ she says.

The radio programme highlighted the number of people with kidney problems who were dying or leading severely restricted lives. Jan says it was always a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ she donated her organ. She never wavered from that decision. Living donors like Jan are referred to as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of kidney transplants as they have undergone months of tests to check their physical and mental health.

‘The one question people ask is “Why? What made you do it?” All the way through the process I did not question the decision, I knew for me it was the right thing to do. Even the night before the operation I slept like a log although the morning of the operation I felt nervous. There are millions of people walking down the street who could make a difference to somebody’s life for a few weeks of discomfort. Most people who have been through it feel privileged and rewarded. Everyone I have spoken to say they would do it again and that’s the biggest testament you could ask. I would be happy to do it again.’

Jan, from Lancaster, was spurred on after meeting one of her sister’s friends who had just given one of his kidneys to a friend. She asked him all the questions preying on her mind, about the pain, how his family reacted, the recovery process. ‘I wanted to know about the pain from someone who had been through it. And the question was, “Would you do it again?” and he said he would do it without a moment’s hesitation.’

Because Jan only had a short period when she could be away from her work as a marketing professional in Kendal – she took six weeks unpaid leave and the NHS covered her loss of earnings – she knew the date of her operation much earlier than many other donors, although she still went through the six months of rigorous health and psychological tests at Preston. For the operation she spent five days in a ward at Manchester Royal Infirmary where donor recipients were also being treated. ‘I do not know anything about the recipient apart from the surgery was successful and the kidney was working on the operating table. It would be nice to know it’s made a difference and the quality of their life has improved. Some people are in touch with their recipient but I didn’t need that.’

The four-hour keyhole operation has left her with two small scars and a slightly larger one of two inches below her navel where the kidney was removed. Like any surgery there are after effects but on the day she left hospital the only pain relief she needed was Paracetamol. ‘The most overwhelming thing I felt was tiredness. I was quite fatigued for two to three weeks and I was aware of not banging my scars but within a few months I was completely back to normal. For me it was a really interesting process.

‘I had an emotional response, it was overwhelming but in a positive way. It’s a rewarding thing to do. I felt like I had done something really positive and being on a ward with people who needed transplants was really moving. I felt a sense that it was absolutely right for me to do it. For me it was such a straightforward decision, it gave me a deeper appreciation of my own health and life. It made me think about what I want to do with my life.’ One of the first things she did following her operation was to become a freelance and now among other projects she works for the Give a Kidney charity. ‘If more people realise that you can live a healthy life with one kidney and that more people would understand it’s something they can do. I think its just that lots of people do not know.

One of Jan’s chief concerns was how her family would react. None of her immediate family has kidney problems and she says both her siblings have genetic relatives who would be able to donate organs in the unlikely scenario that their kidneys failed. ‘I talked to my sister Helen quite a lot about it, she thought I was crazy but was a great support. I did not tell my mum and dad for quite a long time, I did not want them to worry. My sister said, “Why would you do it?” and I said “Why would you jump out of a plane with a parachute to raise money for charity?” You are taking a chance for someone else, it’s just a different way of doing something. I do not have lots of money to give, people take risks every day. The surgeons are the ones who are incredible, I just gave them a tool. It’s a lower risk than having a hip replacement.’

She says she has not had a moment of regret during the past year, but a slight twinge immediately after the operation when she met a 17-year-old girl in desperate need of a transplant and wished she could have donated her kidney to her.

But it may not end there, with the first altruistic liver donation happening recently Jan says it’s something she may consider in the future. ‘I’m not researching it but it is something I would consider.’

THE INSIDE STORY

Consider the following:

A successful kidney transplant saves the NHS more than £20,000 a year compared to the cost of the patient being on dialysis.

It is perfectly safe to live with one kidney. Experience shows that you have no greater risk of health problems than anyone else. The risk of dying from donating a kidney is one in 3,000

Kidney transplants usually last about 15 years

Around 3,000 kidney transplants take place in the UK every year.

There are currently around 7,000 people in need of an organ transplant, the majority require a kidney. About a thousand people a year die due to the shortage of organs.

Kidney transplants from living donors make up around a third of all kidney transplants

For more information about the Give A Kidney charity go to www.giveakidney.org

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