Thursday, 30 April 2020

Chapter Eleven

Two failed transplants, dialysis discounted things were just not looking good. While I was accepting the situation on a day by day basis I was worried what the future held. Rebekah was fighting, she was happy and living childhood to the full, she was always smiling. Did she understand ? I do not know ? Was she too young to understand ? I don't think that she was.

Our Amazing NHS, the loving doctors caring for Rebekah did not have time to spend considering a future which in any way contemplated failure. They came up with Plan B.

I do not actually remember how the idea was put to Maureen and I but we were invited to undergo a simple test to see if either of us were a close enough match to be a live donor, for one of us to give one of our kidneys to save Rebekah's life. No, I do not remember the process but I remember as if it happened just moments ago a telephone call.

I was in my office at Leon School when the phone rang. It was Doctor Susan Rigden from Guys Hospital in London.

Are you sitting down ?” Doctor Rigden asked.


You may like to.”

I am not sure if I sat down or not.

It is you,” Sue continued. “You are best match so it will be your kidney we use for Rebekah.”

I was happy, I was deliriously happy. But it was going to be a long road with many medical tests, each a hurdle I had to clear before the twin operations could be planned.

My chest was shaved and a series of sticky things were placed all over me. These were connected to a heart monitor. The cardiologist poured over the machine and studied the printed out result. His face showed there was something wrong.

Could you try to relax,” he said.

Relax !” I replied. “You have just said there is something wrong with my heart and you want me to relax !”

We both smiled and all was well, I had a perfectly working heart. Hurdle cleared.

The position of my two kidneys within my body and all connections to those kidneys had to be mapped precisely. I lay back on an examination couch with ex-ray cameras looking on. I was injected with some substance in the left groin while cameras tracked everything for the left kidney. I was then injected in the right groin to do the same for the right kidney. I was able to watch everything on a monitor. Fascinating ! Hurdled cleared.

The next hurdle was a bit of a climb but I made it. Doctor Rigden actually called me a bit of a fatty ! Nice professional assessment there Sue ! So what was the big deal ? Just tell the surgeon doing my operation to make sure the knife was sharp. Hurdled cleared.

Geoff Koffman would be working on Rebekah while another transplant surgeon would be un-transplanting, extracting the kidney from my body. He kept warning me that my operation was the more painful and I would experience a lot of pain for quite some time to come. Geoff did I need to know that ? Don't give me another hurdle to clear OK !

Another test took the entire day. This I remember so well. I arrived early at the renal department in Guys Hospital where some kind of substance was injected into my body. Doctors had difficulty getting a shunt into a vein in my body, a shunt from which blood would be taken every hour for six hours to monitor how my kidneys were processing what ever it was that had been injected into me.

SIX HOURS ! Sometimes I was told to sit, rest and read a book. For other hours I was told to go out, to walk and exercise. I would go and walk along the river, pass HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. Both of these would pay their part later in Rebekah's story.

I don't remember exactly what the test was all about but all was OK. Hurdle cleared.

It was not time to start making some firm plans for the dual operations. I was told that I needed to take three months off work. The governors of Leon School met and voted to give me three months of paid leave. A former deputy headmaster was employed to cover my teaching timetable. A member of staff was assigned to take on my duties as head of year. I was not comfortable about this. The member of staff thought that I was far too familiar and relaxed with my students. Yes, I was strict and ran a tight ship but needed to maintain a greater distance. While I was away this person would sort my regime out ! He could try if he wanted to but once back it would not take me long to under whatever he did during my absence.

Wishing to support Elizabeth Ward and to help promote the organ donor card I contacted Anglia Television News to ask if the dual operations could be featured. Editors loved the idea and planned a short documentary. The hospital gave permission for film crews to be in both operating theatre. Camera crew members would have to be medically screened and all equipment sterilised.

All was ready.

The day before Rebekah and I were due to be admitted to Guys Hospital there was a final meeting. We were asked to wait in the small consultation room, Geoff Koffman was in theatre and wanted to be a part of the meeting. Why did Geoff need to speak with us ? We had talked so many times over recent weeks, what was left to talk about ? I had a terrible feeling.

Geoff walked in still in his theatre gown and his mask hanging round his neck. He had come immediately from theatre without taking time change. I knew my feeling was right.

Geoff explained why everything was being called off. To take a kidney out of my body was for a doctor to harm a patient. To do so was not ethical. If the organ taken from my body worked in Beck's then all would be OK but if it failed then the doctors could be accused of being unethical. We all knew that. However, in making final checks across all the tests it was felt the chance of Rebekah rejecting my kidney was too great.

I begged for a change of mind but I was appealing against a decision made by some of the top medics in the country. Me without any professional background. I had to accept the decision. I had fallen at the final hurdle.

Driving home I was gutted. I had let my daughter down. At home I did not go outside or speak to anyone other than my family for two days. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I did not want to do anything but I had to telephone Anglia Television and explain. A camera crew came, filmed Beck riding her bike up and down the road then ran a short news report telling our story and promoting the donor card.

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