"When your children are little, it never even enters your head that one day they might save your life," says Sue Thompson, a 65-year-old retired museum visitor attendant from Doncaster.
"My husband, Anthony, 67, and I have always carried donor cards but we always thought organ donation was something that happened after you’d died. Going through the process of receiving an organ was something that happened to other families – not ours."
Sue had suffered from recurrent water infections since her early thirties and was often on antibiotics. "I’d had blood tests and an x-ray, and it was discovered that my right kidney had stopped developing when I was around eight years old," she explains. "Doctors couldn’t say what had caused it but many people are able to function with one kidney."
Her health remained stable until 2017 when she was finally told I had to go on the transplant waiting list.
"I’d kept my condition a secret from my children daughters Tracey and Louise because there was nothing they could do to help," Sue says. "But as soon as I told them, Louise burst into tears but Tracey was more practical and logical. Both girls – as well as Anthony – immediately asked if they could give me one of their kidneys. The last thing I wanted was someone I love giving me a perfectly healthy kidney. But they told me to stop being so selfish. I was their mum and wife and they didn’t want to lose me. I was poorly, and they insisted that they went for tests to see if it would be even possible. I couldn’t stop them."
After many weeks of tests, the organ donation team decided that Tracey would be the best donor. But because she wasn't an exact match for Sue, she could donate to an organ ‘pool’. "I’d never heard of such a thing, but it’s incredible. She would donate her healthy kidney to a stranger in return for a stranger donating a kidney to me.
"We were admitted in July 2018 and I was very nervous. Not only was I about to have a major operation, but so was my daughter and her operation was a lot more serious than mine. I’d be receiving a healthy new kidney while she would be losing one. How would it affect her health?
"The operation took around four hours and when I came around, I can honestly say I felt so good that I could have leapt off the bed. They wheeled me past Tracey’s bed and I stuck up my thumb as if to say: ‘It’s gone well’ and she did it back to me. But she looked very poorly. I kept asking the nurses how she was and was told her blood pressure had dropped. I was so scared and there were moments where I thought I could lose her. I felt very guilty. The next day, to my delight, she was able to walk again and even called by my room to say hello."
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The difference to Sue's life has been marvellous. "I have so much more energy and can eat what I like - previously I had to avoid milk and yoghurt, for example. Your diet is so restricted when you have kidney disease. We’re definitely closer now. She was such a brave girl and I can get quite emotional thinking about the fact she only has one kidney now. But she insists it was the right thing to do and I can never thank her enough. She’s given me a new lease of life."
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Sue's daughter Tracey Thompson, 39, is a job coach for people with learning disabilities. "A couple of years ago, on the anniversary of our operation, I bought mum a shopping bag," she says. "On it, was the date we had surgery with the words ‘Kidney Thief’. Everyone said: ‘You can’t give that to her!’ But I did – and she loves it. There was no doubt in my mind that donating a kidney to my mum was the right thing to do. She’s my mum and I’m sure she would do the same for me."
Tracey explains she and her mum have always been close and able to talk. "Fifteen years ago, when I told her that I’d met someone special and it was a girl from work, I was a bit scared of what she might say. But Mum took my hand and said: ‘Are you happy?’ When I said that I was, she said: ‘Then I am too’ and that was that. Alice, my partner of 15 years, has been incredibly supportive although obviously she worried. At one point she said: ‘There’s no point me saying you can’t do this is there?’ and there wasn’t. I needed to help my mum.
"I was hooked up to so much morphine after the operation that I felt out of it for two days. But I do remember mum waving at me as she came out of the theatre. I was discharged four days later, feeling very sore, and I’ve never felt so tired in my life."
But it was worth it, Tracey says. "The first time I saw mum outside the hospital, just a few days after the operation she looked like a different person. She had more colour in her cheeks, she was smiling more, she just looked healthier.
"I feel completely fine. I am a bit more careful with my diet, drinking more water and going to the toilet more but I can eat and drink normally.
"Mum wrote a lovely card to me on our operation anniversary, saying that she can’t thank me enough. I completely understand why she feels guilty but I don’t want her to feel that way. She has a much better quality of life and that’s all I wanted. Having said that, occasionally she sends me a text telling me that she’s having half a lager and I’ll reply: ‘Make sure you look after that kidney – I’m not giving you another one!’"
Click for more information on organ donation in the UK.