A BRAVE Co Armagh mother-of-three has given her brother the gift of life - by donating one of her kidneys.
Andrea Gardiner (43) made the decision after brother Paul Beattie (46) had both his kidneys removed and was being kept alive by dialysis at Belfast City Hospital.
A month after the double operation at the City both are thriving, with Paul “totally rejuvenated and full of energy” and Andrea living a normal life on one kidney.
Said Paul, who is registered blind and lives in Portadown, “I can’t ever thank Andrea enough. I was the one who had the misgivings - feelings of guilt and trauma, thinking what she was going through for me. I’d had both my diseased kidneys removed (in 1997 and 2011) and had been going through dialysis three days a week, five hours a day. I knew only too well the serious operation she had committed herself to.
“She knew the risks, and on the morning she was taken to theatre, I asked her if she really wanted to do this. She never flinched, and I admit I shed tears of emotion that she was willing to sacrifice one of her kidneys for me. The surgery was on October 15, and now five weeks later, it seems to have been a total success.
“My face turned from a dark, grey colour to pink immediately after the surgery, I couldn’t believe how well I felt with the kidney kicking in so soon. But Andrea was tired and weak, and when we were reunited in the ward, the tears flowed again. But it wasn’t without its humour. I called out, ‘Thanks for the kidney Andrea!’ and she replied, ‘Any time. Paul!’ It really made me laugh.”
Despite his blindness, Paul works in advertising sales for the Hillsborough-based magazine company ‘Four Square’ and will resume in the New Year. “I get a taxi down each day and can’t get out and about anymore,” he said. “The technology has been specially adapted for me, as I do have a modicum of sight.”
Andrea, a classroom assistant in Lurgan, hasn’t regretted for one minute her decision to donate a kidney to her much-loved brother, and talked it over with her family - Roslyn (20), Philip (18) and Jill (14), as well as her mother Lorna. “The fact that Paul lived a normal life with one kidney from 1997 until early last year, proved to me that it was perfectly possible,” she recalled. “The dialysis was tough on him, and seven months into it, I decided that I would be his donor. It took a year before the actual operation.
Before the double-operation, the much-publicised kidney donation of sports star Joe Brolly to his friend Shane Finnegan - which ultimately failed - hit the headlines. But Andrea had made up her mind, and the lady wasn’t for turning.
Paul’s wife Gillian, their brother Stephen and sister-in-law Caroline were also very supportive throughout the traumatic time. Said Paul, “Gillian was superb, not just during the transplant, but throughout the years, dealing with the kidney problems and with the blindness, which was a gradual process. She has been a tremendous support for such a long time.”
Having passed the first month deadline, with the important three-month and year periods still to come, Andrea and Paul are confident he will lead a normal life, with the required medication helping him through. “If it is still a success after a year, that means the long-term prognosis is 90-95 per cent,” said Andrea.
A thorough, intelligent woman, with a firm Christian faith (a faith which Paul shares) Andrea researched every facet of the situation, not least the fact that the medical team had to pass her physically and mentally fit for what lay ahead - “the tests were exhaustive” - and, of course, her kidney had to be compatible before they could even consider a transplant.
Andrea drew strength from a woman at the City Hospital who simply donated her kidney to whoever needed it. “It ended up with someone from London,” she said. “It reinforced my determination that if a woman could so that for a total stranger, then I could do it for my brother.”
Live donors like Andrea can contact the City Hospital on 90329241, and they both exhort everyone to carry a donor card. Said Paul: “We also believe that Northern Ireland should adopt the ‘Opt Out’ policy where everyone is deemed a donor unless they specifically want to be excluded.”