Tuesday, 16 August 2022, There was no hesitation when Allister Smith heard that his brother, Colin, was in renal failure and needed a kidney transplant. “Of course, he’s my brother. I would do it again and again to give Colin, potentially, another 20 good years.”
The Gqeberha brothers’ living donor transplant marked the landmark 800th kidney transplant at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital’s transplant centre, which also offers heart transplant programmes.
“I had no reason to suspect I could be at risk for kidney problems. Four years ago, I was playing basketball, jogging and cycling. I was fit and healthy, I drank plenty of water, and I never had pain in my kidneys,” Colin, now 44, recalls.
“Over the next two years I went through some stressful times, including a divorce and a robbery at my home. One night not long after that, I felt very restless and just couldn’t get to sleep. I woke up in ICU the next day with the doctor telling me my blood pressure was so high that he could hardly believe I survived.”
Colin’s high blood pressure left his kidneys severely damaged. He became dependent on regular dialysis sessions at the National Renal Care (NRC) dialysis unit in Gqeberha, where his blood was filtered and artificially purified as a substitute for the detoxification function usually performed by healthy kidneys.
“We are a very close family, and immediately when we found out I had renal failure, my brother Alister said, ‘We have to do something’. He was ready to give me a kidney, but then COVID-19 hit, and things had to be put on hold,” Colin says.
“Colin was a healthy guy – but the kidney failure took a physical toll on him the last few years and his quality of life was suffering,” Allister adds. “We had an anxious wait for the results of the tests to see if I would be a compatible match, and whether I was healthy enough to donate my kidney. When the match came back it was nearly identical and my kidneys were in tiptop condition, giving us the necessary medical clearance.”
“Before I agreed to accept Allister’s offer and go through with it, I did a lot of research about kidney transplants and the potential risk for the donor. I discussed it thoroughly with my brother to make sure he knew as much as I did about this huge undertaking, and we weighed up all the options. He said, there and then, he was ready to give me his kidney – a new chance for a normal life,” Colin says.
“The significance of having a brother like that, one who would literally give me his kidney, it really means more than words can say. I think he knows how much I appreciate it, both for myself and especially for my young son’s sake.”
“It doesn’t feel so much of a big deal because I trust God and I will do anything I can to help my brother. Colin is five years older than me and, although as grown men we don’t talk about it much, I love him dearly. It was a privilege for me to be able to give him a kidney, and we’ve grown even closer since,” Allister says.
“You would be surprised how many people depend on him just being there. He’s been so strong, but it hasn’t been easy for him, working hard while trying to stay as healthy as possible and needing to go for dialysis three times a week.
“Our mother and extended family, his friends, everyone is feeling more hopeful now that he has had the transplant. I can see the difference in Colin already, and it’s only been a few weeks since he received my kidney – I cannot wait to see the difference it makes to him in a year.”
Allister, a maintenance technician at Volkswagen’s Gqeberha plant, was discharged from hospital within a week of the procedure in early June to remove his kidney, and he returned to work a month later. Colin, a team leader in a manufacturing company, is recovering well and returned to work at the beginning of August.
“Kidney failure is not the end of the world, and what kept me strong was my faith in God – put God first and he will help you through anything. I was doing everything I could to not let this thing get me down because for some people, dialysis becomes their life. I kept busy and tried to keep my body as strong and healthy as possible, and the NRC nurses even remarked that I was always cheerful,” Colin recalls.
“I am so grateful to everyone involved, all the doctors, coordinators, the super attentive hospital staff and especially my brother for making this possible, and for everyone who has been there for me in recent years.”
Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment congratulated the transplant team at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital on reaching the milestone of 800 kidney transplants.
“The kidney transplant programme at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, which has touched so many lives, was started by transplant and trauma surgeon Prof Elmin Steyn, nephrologist Dr Julian Jacobs, physician and kidney specialist Dr Derek Miller, and transplant coordinator Alexia Michaelides,” she says.
“It has since developed into a large multidisciplinary team, which includes Prof Steyn, urologists Dr Paul Whittaker and Dr Anesh Naidoo, as well as dedicated nephrologists, coordinators, a social worker, and dietician. The experienced and highly trained nursing staff in the intensive care unit, theatre and surgical ward are crucial to the programme’s success for patients.
“We wish the Smith brothers everything of the best, and the transplant team at the hospital many more years of making a profound difference to so many families’ futures through life saving procedures.”
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