WHETHER you or a loved one are suffering from kidney, heart or liver failure, the arrival of a donor organ can be life-changing.
Shirley Evans, 58, saw her daughter Shirley-Anne, who is now 27, undergo a heart transplant aged just three-and-a-half.
And Shirley-Anne, from New Broughton, also received a kidney from her mother in two very different transplant experiences.
Mrs Evans, who lives in Ruthin where she runs Uptown Interiors with her husband Dave, said: “Shirley-Anne had congenital heart problems. Basically, she was born with a malformed heart and it didn’t function properly.
“It was never going to get better. Surgery wasn’t an option as the problems were too complex. There was too much wrong with it.”
The result was that, 23 years ago, Shirley-Anne became one of the first young children to undergo a full heart transplant.
Mrs Evans said: “At that point, lots of adults had gone through heart transplants, but not many children. Shirley-Anne was one of the first recipients of a paediatric heart transplant.”
On December 1 next year, Wales will be the first UK country to introduce a soft opt-out system for organ and tissue donation, which means that families will have to register an objection to a donation being made.
In future, if families do not explicitly opt out, suitable organs will be taken from the donor.
This wasn’t the case when Shirley-Anne was in need of a heart.
Mrs Evans said: “The thing about a heart transplant is that obviously someone has to die to give up the heart, unlike kidney transplants which can come from a living donor.
“There are a lot of emotions involved and in a way it’s very sad. We’re very grateful for the family of the donor giving their consent.”
The transplant made a big difference to the Evans family.
Mrs Evans said: “When Shirley-Anne was 21, she had renal failure as a result of the anti-rejection drugs she was taking.
“I was a match, but organising the transplant was not a quick process. It took 12 months from then to when we had the operation. That was because there were lots of tests.
“It’s different when you are a live donor. When a heart comes up, the decision has to be made there and then, but because they knew we were compatible, they did a thorough battery of tests to make sure there would be no complications, both for Shirley-Anne and me as a donor.”
Shirley has never regretted offering her kidney to her daughter.
She said: “If anyone out there is considering doing this for a loved one, then they can be reassured every test under the sun is done, and there’s lots of support. We were also offered counselling.
“Anyone in doubt they are doing the right thing should know they most certainly are.”
Mrs Evans herself has suffered no ill effects after donating her kidney.
She said: “Shirley-Anne is doing very well. She’s even a mum to my grandson Cameron, who is nearly seven. She works at Ysgol New Broughton. There are after-effects – the anti-rejection drugs have side effects. B, but when you weigh up the pros and cons – she’s here and that’s all that matters.”
Brent Roberts, 56, of Wrexham, has spoken often about the life-changing effect a kidney transplant had on his life after nine years on dialysis.
He said: “Believe me its not funny being strapped to a machine to keep you alive. During that time, I had three calls saying that a donor had been found – but it’s more complicated than that.
“The first time I was too ill to safely undergo the operation, and sometimes the donor kidneys themselves are not medically sound or they are unsuitable in another way.
“I have an unusual blood type, B negative, which can work for or against you.” Up until his sudden kidney failure, Mr Roberts said he had never been ill in his life.
He said: “I still don’t know the real cause and it’s not something I want to dwell on as it doesn’t help.
“I’ve known of some people who’ve waited even longer than me for a transplant, but I believe the average is between three and four years.
“It makes a difference. Sometimes the body will reject an organ but there are people who had transplants 30 years ago who are still going strong.”
Melanie Owen, 35, of Holywell, has a liver donor to thank for the life of her son.
Little William Hughes, now 11, was 16-months-old when he had the life-saving transplant.
Miss Owen said: “It was 10 years ago. When he was eight days old he was rushed to hospital as his body had shut down. He spent a few days in special care at Glan Clwyd hospital and then went to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Manchester.
“It was very scary. He was on a life support machine. They found out he had a metabolic disorder. He was given different medicines and allowed home.”
Once home, little William had to go on a feed because his body couldn’t break down proteins.
“They’d build up in his blood,” said Miss Owen, “which was very dangerous. We never knew what was going to happen. He had the transplant at 16 months – he was tiny. There was a complication during his operation. His blood pressure dropped when he was on the operating table, so they had to stop while it came up again. But after that, it went well and three weeks later he came home.”
William has other health issues and has been diagnosed with autism – but otherwise he’s a healthy, active child. He attends Ysgol Pen Coch and is due to move up to Ysgol Maes Hyfryd in September.
Miss Owen said: “We were told he might never walk or talk, and he suffered rejection, but they changed his medication and sorted it out. He’s fine now.
“He started walking aged three. He’s amazing. He has his moments but he’s a cheerful little boy.
“Without a liver transplant and for the generosity of a family who had just lost a loved one, William would not be here now. My family will always be grateful for that.”
She added: “I definitely think the new law is a good idea. If everybody was on the donor register to start with, more lives would be saved.
“Some people mean to but don't get round to signing up. This will change that.”
l Brent Roberts will be at an organ donation awareness event today at Wrexham Central Library between 10am and noon and at Sainsbury’s in Plas Coch between 4pm and 6pm as part of Welsh Government Time to Talk campaign.