From Facebook friend to LIFESAVER ‘Happy to help!’
I can never repay Ali’s wonderful generosity A li says, ‘I met Sonia back in 2010 when I was a student. She was so kind and such a great teacher that, when I saw the Facebook post, I wanted to help. When I found out we were the same blood and tissue grou
Iwas 25 and living in my native Portugal when I started suffering from high blood pressure.
Tests revealed cysts around my kidney, and I was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
Turns out my twin sister and I were born with the condition.
There was no treatment, so I was given tablets to lower my blood pressure and told to carry on with my life as normal.
Nine years later, in 2008, I came to the UK to start my job as a radiographer.
My renal care was moved to London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital – where, a year later, tests showed things weren’t good.
‘Your kidneys are functioning at 40 per cent,’ the doctor explained. ‘You’re in kidney failure.’ So I was booked in for monitoring appointments every six months, and told to drink lots of water and cut my salt intake. Thankfully, it didn’t stop me working as a radiographer.
But, in June 2015, my kidney function dropped to just 15 per cent.
‘We’re putting you on the transplant list,’ my doctor told me.
‘Really?’ I asked. ‘I don’t have any symptoms.’
But my kidneys weren’t removing waste from my blood as they should. And, a year later, I was told I needed to start dialysis, as my kidney function had plunged to nine per cent.
So, last December, I was trained to administer peritoneal dialysis to myself at home three times a day, through a tube in my bowel.
Unfortunately, no other family or friends could donate, but they all rallied round.
My house was like a florist’s with all the beautiful bouquets people had sent to cheer me up.
As always, my sister was a great support.
‘I’ll put a post on Facebook thanking everyone’ she said.
‘OK,’ I agreed. ‘But don’t mention what’s wrong. I don’t want everyone knowing.’
Not long after, I had a private Facebook message from Ali Golian. He’d been one of my radiography students at King’s College Hospital back in 2010.
What’s going on? he wrote. Are you OK?
After his course, Ali had got a job in another department at the hospital, so I’d still bump into him, and we’d stop for a chat. But then he’d changed jobs, and we’d lost touch.
It’d been around five years since we’d last spoken.
But Ali, now 30, had seen
My kidney function had plunged to just nine per cent
my sister’s post. And I was touched by his concern.
I’ve got kidney failure. I’m having dialysis while waiting for a transplant, I explained.
He asked what blood type I was, and I told him, thinking nothing of it.
Turned out we were both type O. But then… I’ll see if I’m a match, he wrote. No! I replied, instantly. You’re too young. You don’t need to do this.
I was shocked, and also very touched – but I hardly knew Ali. So I messaged again, thanking him, and urging him not to get tested. But Ali was persistent! We need to talk before you do anything, I told him, giving him the contact details for the living transplant co-ordinator.
I didn’t think he’d be a match. But, if he was, I needed to make sure he was aware of the physical and psychological implications of losing a kidney.
‘Please be 100 per cent sure about what you’re doing,’ I begged, when I rang him days later. ‘It’s a really big operation.’
I even met up with him at the hospital to discuss it. But Ali never once wavered. Instead, he started having the tests required to see if he was a match.
Incredibly, he was! I broke down in tears when I found out.
We were interviewed by an independent advisor to make sure everyone was happy with the arrangement.
Then the operation was planned for May this year.
Beforehand, Ali and I went out for dinner with friends.
‘Why did you decide to do this?’ one asked him.
‘Many years ago, when I was a student, Sonia was very kind to me,’ he explained. ‘I’m doing it because it’s Sonia. I wouldn’t do it for just anyone.’
‘But I was just doing my job!’ I smiled.
By now, my kidney function had deteriorated further, so I was having dialysis five times a day.
It impacted on both my work and social life, and was painful.
The transplant couldn’t come soon enough for me.
On 30 May this year, Ali and I were both admitted to Guy’s Hospital.
At 8.30am, Ali came to say goodbye to me before being taken down to theatre. I broke down, terrified. ‘You told me to be strong!’ Ali reassured me. ‘Everything will be fine.’
In theatre, Ali had keyhole surgery to remove his left kidney. Then the surgeons attached it to my right side, in front of my existing kidney.
When I awoke a few hours later, I looked across the room and saw Ali in the other bed. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked. ‘Yes, but sleepy,’ I replied, still groggy from the anaesthetic.
‘The operation was a success, and the kidney is starting to work already,’ a nurse said. It was such a relief. We were both discharged a week later.
During that time, we’d spent hours talking every day.
Then, seven weeks after the surgery, Ali returned to his superintendent radiographer job, And, after three months, I went back to mine.
I’ll have to take immune suppressants for the rest of my life, so my body doesn’t reject the kidney – and I’m more prone to infections. But, apart from that, I’m fine.
After seven months of dialysis, it’s such a relief not to have to do it any more.
I have so much more energy, and feel like a different person.
Words really can’t express how grateful I am to Ali. He’s so much more than a friend – he’s like a brother.
I’ve nicknamed his kidney ‘mini Ali’, and will be forever grateful for his unbelievably generous gift.
Words really can’t express how grateful I am to Ali