A Drayton family is celebrating a second chance at life, thanks to the determination to go to the other side of the world to make miracles happen – and a selfless woman who just wanted to keep her sister and nephew alive.
When David and Patsy Blyth’s son, Nathan, was 19, he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease – a condition in which cysts form on the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure.
Ten years later, in 2007, Patsy was also diagnosed with the same disease – and was told she would need a transplant within five years.
“This knocked us for six,” said David.
With two members of the family suffering from the condition, the whole family was tested and they were all given the all-clear – and Patsy’s sister, Tracey Harwood, immediately offered to donate one of her kidneys.
“I didn’t even really think about it,” she said. “I just said I’d do it.”
Tests proved that although she was not a perfect match, Tracey was able to donate, and work began to prepare the sisters for the operation, which was pencilled in for the summer of 2012.
Tracey needed to lose weight before the operation and while she stuck religiously to her task, Patsy was put on the deceased donor list – and in July, David received the call from Addenbrooke’s Hospital that a possible kidney had been found.
“I called her on her mobile to tell her the news. I was in tears, she was in tears… I called Tracey to tell her and to see if she was OK with this after all the hard work she had gone through to give Patsy a new lease of life. I think I remember her crying, too,” said David.
Tracey and her husband, Gary, raced to their house from their home in Taverham and they all drove to the hospital together.
“Patsy received her kidney in the early hours of July 25, 2012 – a date we will never forget,” said David. “She is now leading a normal healthy life and Tracey was able to keep both her kidneys.”
Meanwhile, Nathan had moved to Australia to start a new life, was in a relationship and had two young children. But his kidneys were failing, he was told he needed an operation on his spine, his relationship had collapsed and he was told that, like his mum before him, he would need a transplant.
While he was waiting, he met a new partner, Cheryl, who, David says, played an enormous part in helping Nathan through his treatment and recovery, which included taking part in pioneering dialysis trials and treatment at home.
Back in England, David underwent tests at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to see if he was a suitable donor, but learned that although he was the perfect match, his own kidneys were not in a good enough condition to transplant to his son.
“Once again, in steps Tracey,” said David. “She was determined to get rid of one of her kidneys!”
Although now a grandmother, Tracey said the decision was immediately obvious.
“I just felt there was a chance of a better life for Nathan if he had this operation, and if I could help I would. It turned out I was a better match for Nathan than I was for Patsy.”
David said everyone cried when the tests revealed the operation was possible – but there were still hurdles to clear.
“How on earth were we going to be able to pull this off?” he said. “Nathan was in Australia and was too ill to travel, and Tracey and all of us were here in England – 12,000 miles apart.”
So the family swung into action – David, Patsy, Tracey, Gary and their daughter Abbie planning flights and time off work and liaising between the “fantastic” renal team at the N&N – who David says played a vital role in bringing the whole project together – and the hospital in Melbourne.
“This trip was going to last three months providing everything went to plan,” said David. “All their employers were brilliant.”
On arrival in Melbourne there were more tests for Tracey, and the transplant was carried out on February 13 this year.
Tracey was discharged after four days and Nathan soon began to recover – so much so that he was able to fly back to Norwich last month to visit his grandfather, Wally, in hospital before he died.
“Without this fantastic gift of a new kidney he would not have been able to do this,” said David, who hopes his family’s story will raise awareness of the disease and also of altruistic kidney donation.
David says he is grateful every day for those who helped his wife and son get this second chance, and Tracey says she feels even closer to her nephew now than she did before.
“We were always close but it does feel strange being in the same room, thinking my kidney is inside him,” she said.
Pictured: Family group which includes: David (far left), Patsy (second left), Tracey (denim skirt) Cheryl (blue dress) and Nathan (jeans).