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Column: I gave a kidney to my husband to save his life

When Anna Costello learned her husband needed a kidney transplant she volunteered to donate one of hers. Here, she explains why she is “thankful every day” about her decision.

Anna Costello

MY NAME IS Anna Costello and I am married to Richard. We share a strong bond, I donated a kidney to him last summer. We live in Limerick with our five children and, mostly, our lives have been very normal. We run a family business, a bar and restaurant. Our children have all worked it from time to time. Tony, our eldest son is now full time in the business as is our second son, Richard, who is our chef.

However, our story was so different in 2010. My husband had been feeling sluggish and generally unwell. It started around Christmas. We put it down to being busy and it’s a crazy time with bookings and Christmas parties in the pub. We both felt that it must have been a virus and hoped it would pass. We didn’t dwell too much on it. Christmas came and went and by then Richard was feeling worse, so he went to his GP in early February. After initial tests it was determined that Richard’s blood pressure had gone through the roof. We were immediately referred to accident and emergency at the Regional Hospital Dooradoyle in Limerick.

‘We were so shocked’

It was Friday, I remember the traffic was manic and thought we’d never get there. The A&E was packed, Friday would always be like that. I remember thinking we would be there all day. Richard was so pale and I felt that his condition was serious. I was anxious to know what was wrong with him.

We met with a consultant and his team on the following Monday. They delivered that fateful news that Richard was in renal failure and his kidneys were only working a 10 per cent capacity. We were so shocked. In my innocence I enquired how one gets their kidneys back working to a maximum capacity. The consultant told us that Richard’s kidneys were “gone” and that he would be going on a transplant waiting list as Richard would need a kidney donation. It was an emotional rollercoaster trying to get my head around it.

Richard started dialysis in May 2010 and began work up to go on a transplant list at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

The tests revealed I was a match

It was on one of those visits to Beaumont Hospital that I read some pamphlets on the Living Donor Programme. As I was not a blood relative, it was probable that my chances of being a suitable match to donate to Richard were less likely. Richard and I discussed living donation. He just thought that, more than likely, I wouldn’t be a match and I didn’t say any more about it. When tests revealed that I was a match I decided to commence what is called a ‘work up’ to transplant.

I wanted to get our life back to enable us to get back to normal. It was so difficult for Richard. He was doing dialysis four days a week for four hours every other day. You could add another hour or two. Life as we knew it before Richard got ill was no more. Our life was basically on hold. This was heart-breaking for all of us, as Richard had always been very active and he played rugby for Munster. Then, when our children came along, Richard enjoyed playing golf with our four boys. But when illness stuck he was hardly able to go for a walk. He had no energy and no life.

I was made aware of the risks involved in living donation but I had made my mind up: I wanted to do this – to give Richard one of my kidneys. I was determined. We discussed it in detail with our children and it was my decision in the end. We all gave our opinions we assured our children that it was for the greater good for everyone in our family. Naturally, Richard wasn’t one hundred percent behind the decision. I insisted I was healthy, I had no illnesses or impediments, and so as far as I was concerned there could be no reason not to go ahead. I was determined to proceed. I know that Richard would have done the same for me if the tables were reversed.

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We are getting back to life as we knew it before

We are now eight months after our living kidney donor operation which took place at Beaumont Hospital. We had a totally separate surgical team. The transplant coordinators, led by Phyllis Cunningham, were so reassuring every step of the way. They are an amazing team and are still available to us whenever we might need them. It truly is an incredible journey and I am thankful every day that we are both well and getting back to life as we knew it before February 2010. It has been a turbulent rollercoaster ride and it’s great to be off it now.

It is imperative that people carry an organ donor card and to discuss their decision to donate their organs if they meet an untimely death. Organ donation touches so many lives, not just the people who are in need of organ transplants but their families and friends also.

Anna and Richard Costello

To learn more about Organ Donation Awareness Week visit the Irish Kidney Association’s website. For Organ Donor Cards Freetext DONOR to 50050.

Read: Organ Donor Awareness Week hopes to reverse drop in donations>

Read: Organ donation fell 17 per cent last year – IKA>

About the author:

Anna Costello

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