Hey Dad, look at my legs they are pink ! The words with which Rebekah greeted me. The fact that there was colour in her body meant the new kidney was working. Third time lucky ?
Two failed transplants, a dabble with dialysis, a failed plan for a live donation so was this the end of the road ? It was the end of one road but the start of another road, a road that was going to be very long and very dangerous.
In the past there had been no accommodation at Guys Hospital for parents to stay overnight with their children. Both Maureen and I had slept on the floor by the side of Rebekah's bed. This time something was different. There are now thirteen Ronald McDonald Houses in Britain and three hundred and sixty-five round the world. Newly opened Ronald McDonald House at Guys Hospital was the very first to open in Britain and ours was among the first families to stay there.
As I have been explaining in earlier chapters, having a child sick in hospital is never easy. When that child needs specialist treatment far away from home life for the whole family is very, very difficult. This is where Ronald McDonald steps in, puts arms around the family and says: Come and stay with us, we will take care of you and keep your family together. Staying with Ronald is free. There is everything a family could possibly want, Family rooms are lovely with each having a direct telephone link to the child's ward. Thank you Ronald for taking our family in.
Ronald McDonald House at Guys Hospital became our second home and base for the duration of Rebekah being in hospital on this occasion. For part of the time I lived in Ronald McDonald House and commuted to work in Milton Keynes.
Rebekah's name was Rebekah Louise Maureen Ashford. She decided to call her new kidney Louise. Rebekah's natural immune system was too strong and had rejected two earlier transplanted organs. Her first words to me on my return from California may have been: Hey Dad, look at my legs they are pink ! But the pink was fading. History was repeating itself.
Doctor Susan Rigden took us into that small office on Dickens Ward. I knew what was coming, the third transplant was going to fail. Yes it was failing but the incredible medics in the paediatric renal unit at Guys Hospital were prepared to take a gamble and put their loving care up against Rebekah's strong immune system but to do so they needed permission from Maureen and myself.
The plan was to take Rebekah, accompanied by doll Chell, into theatre again and insert a catheter into her neck leading right down into her heart. She would then be connected to a dialysis machine which would take out her blood, remove all of the anti bodies which were trying to kill the kidney then return the blood. It was a gamble but it may just work.
Sue then went on to explain the dangers of any infection Rebakah may contract. “If she catches something as simple as a cold,” Doctor Rigden began.
“Then you will treat it,” I said cutting her short.
“That is what I am trying to say, we will not be able to.”
If we agreed to this procedure and Rebekah caught something as simple as a mild cold or a sore throat she would die. Rebekah was too young to make the decision herself but Maureen and I knew what she would say, without any hesitation we agreed the procedure.
Two large tubes came out of her neck, they were big and looked scary. For hours on end these tubes were connected to the dialysis machine working its live saving or life ending mission. It had to work. If it did not and kidney number three, Kidney Louise, failed then Beck would not be strong enough to undergo another operation to remove the failed transplant.
We had every possible faith in the doctors and nurses at Guys Hospital and we remained optimistic but looking back the chances were probably 50/50 at very best. Blood was constantly tested but a biopsy was really the only way to find out exactly what ws happening.
A biopsy involves the extraction of sample cells of tissue for examination to determine the presence or extent of a disease, in this case decaying or rejected cells. The tissue is generally examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Over her life Rebekah had many biopsies performed. Although this was a routine procedure on this occasion it was very important. It went ahead and we all waited for the results. We knew from past biopsies results were not quick in coming.
I was leaving the ward, I do not remember what I was going to buy but I was heading to W H Smith on the ground floor of Guys Tower. I was waiting for the lift. When it arrived the doors opened and Doctor Susan Rigden came out.
“Wonderful news,” Doctor Ridgen said.
I looked blank. “What news ?”
Doctor Rigden smiled broadly then said,” NO SIGN OF REJECTION !”
I do not remember what I was heading to W H Smith to buy as I never went there. Rebekah's life had been saved. Thank you Guys Hospital. Thank you our wonderful NHS. Rebekah could now go back to school and live a normal life.
Well she could but there was a long walk down the road before that was going to happen. Throughout the summer we lived at Ronald McDonald House. Discharged from the ward Rebekah lived there as well. Around the daily clinic visits we had a holiday in London.
Within walking distance of Guys Hospital is Tower Bridge. We went and stood there during the London Marathon to cheer the runners, in particular we clapped and cheered loudly as the mother of one of my Leonites ran past. I can close my eyes now and see this lady jogging by.
Crossing the bridge is The Tower of London. We spent time there.
HMS Belfast, that was a good day out.
Within my newspaper writing I was preparing an article about Queen Boadicea. On my own I went to Westminster Bridge and took photographs of her statue.
Riding on the Docklands Light Railway we would go down to Greenwich.
All in all we had a good summer.
I remember so clearly sitting in Ronald McDonald House writing a book for Rebekah, The Wild Adventures of Di Central Eating. I talk more about that in the next chapter. While Rebekah was still on the ward I spent time editing my book Peter's Magic Fountain Pen. I was going to become an international best selling author. Well that didn't happen did it !
These were good, happy times. Good, happy times thanks entirely to our wonderful National Health Service and everyone at Guys Hospital. My family owes a debt to our National Health Service we can never repay.
A new life was about to begin.