Selfless Kirkintilloch woman donates kidney to save the life of a stranger

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A Kirkintilloch woman who donated her kidney to save a stranger’s life has met up with him seven weeks after the successful transplant operation.

Jennie Differ, 26, registered her interest in helping Allan McGowan, 25, from Bellshill, after hearing about his plight.

Allan, who had experienced progressive loss of his kidney function after being diagnosed with Alport syndrome as a teenager, was told his kidneys were functioning at just 20 per cent back in 2017 and prepared to start dialysis.

But soon after, Allan’s kidney function dropped to just eight per cent, and he was rushed to hospital to have an emergency line fitted – just one week after becoming a new dad to baby Colton.

The young man was put on the deceased donor waiting list after starting dialysis, and a year and a half later, he received the call telling him a living donor, who was a match, had been found.

Jennie’s donation and 
Allan’s transplant went ahead on January 22, 2019 at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, with the pair meeting for the first time as Jennie was discharged after surgery.

Since 2009, 78 people have altruistically donated a kidney in Scotland.

A healthy person can lead a completely normal life with one kidney, and a kidney from a living donor generally offers the best outcomes for patients living with kidney failure who need a transplant.

There are usually two routes to living kidney donation – directed donation where a friend, relative or partner donates to a loved one, or non-directed altruistic donation which involves a person donating to a stranger who is best matched on the waiting list, usually starting a chain of transplants.

The term for Jennie’s gesture is directed altruistic donation, as her wish was to donate directly to him, even though she didn’t know him.

Speaking about her motivations, Jennie, a support worker, said: “I regularly give blood, am on the Anthony Nolan register and I’d heard about kidney donation, but thought you could only donate to a family member. When I read Allan’s story, I just remember thinking I want to do this, and made the call.

“When I spoke to the donor co-ordinator, she explained I might not be a match for Allan, but I told her that didn’t matter. I’d happily help anybody.

“Becoming a donor is a long process. They test you for absolutely everything. As it got closer to the surgery, and I was telling people what I was doing, it definitely started to sink in more.

“My partner Darren didn’t really want to discuss it, out of concern and because of my age, but he supported my decision as did my mum.

“My dad wasn’t too pleased but he knows once I’ve made my mind up about something there’s no point in trying to stop me.”

Allan said: “Dialysis was hard going, having all the appointments, especially with Colton being born. But I just pulled through and got on with it.

“It was strange getting the call as I wasn’t expecting it at all. I didn’t know what to think. It was brilliant to think that there was a chance I could get my life back, and that there was someone that would do that for me.

“Every test to check the donor was a match came back 100 per cent perfect. Everyone said I immediately had a better colour, and I felt warm for the first time in ages. I couldn’t believe it.”

Jennie said: “When I set out on doing this, I deliberately didn’t want to know the person, because if at any point I’d changed my mind, then it would have been so much harder. I chose to do this because I wanted to, not because I had to.

“I’ve had friends who have illnesses and I can’t do anything to help them. With kidneys, there is a way to fix it, so I just thought, why wouldn’t I?

“When I was being discharged, I asked about Allan and how he was doing. Normally you can send letters via the donor co-ordinator, but as we were in the same hospital, she asked if we wanted to meet.

They got together on Thursday, March 14, which was also World Kidney Day.

Jennie said: “Allan and his partner Coleen were there. They had a balloon and a card and gave me a hug and I started crying. I was a bit speechless meeting him, and seeing how close we were in age.”

Allan added: “When Jennie came in to see me, I must have said thanks about a hundred times. It was a total selfless act. Just shows you that there are good people out there.

“We’re still in touch, and me and Coleen are planning to take Jennie and Darren out for dinner once I’m back to full strength.

“I’m recovering well and am able to do so much more with my wee boy, who keeps me on my toes. Being rid of dialysis is brilliant. I have a future and I have Jennie to thank for that.”

For further information on living kidney donation, visit livingdonationscotland.org