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Office worker donates kidney to colleague

An electricity worker who gave one of her kidneys to a colleague is urging people in Kent to sign up as organ donors to help transform lives.

From Press releases - 14 July 2014 12:00 AM

Office worker donates kidney to colleague alfresco.jpg

An electricity worker who gave one of her kidneys to a colleague is urging people in Kent to sign up as organ donors to help transform lives.

Terri Smith, who is 27, donated her kidney to Martin Baker, a lifelong diabetic aged 52, after they met three years ago in an electricity connections department at UK Power Networks in Bircholt Road, Maidstone, and became friends.

The surgery last August transformed Martin’s life, ending dialysis which plunged him into depths of despair. Although Terri developed rare complications in theatre she doesn’t hesitate to say she is happy she did the right thing - Martin’s life has been transformed.

Terri said: “Seeing the difference in Martin is the main reason I offered to help. I am overwhelmed that he no longer has to have dialysis and that it has had such an impact on his everyday life. I would encourage anyone if they could help in anyway and put their name on the donor register to do so.”

During her time in hospital, Terri witnessed a mother and daughter travel to London from Eastbourne and wait anxiously through the night to hear if a donor kidney would provide a longed-for match.

“I heard them explaining to her that she couldn’t have the kidney and she would have to go home and wait for the next one. It’s horrible. You hear the emotion and know how upsetting it must be,” says Terri.

People interested in being a living donor need to contact their nearest renal transplant unit. The NHS Organ Donor Register is for people to join if they'd like to donate their organs after death. They are also encouraged to tell their loved ones about their decision.

One of life’s ‘givers’, even before the transplant, Terri’s interests outside work included volunteering at a local nursing home. It was this compassion, typical of her, that inspired her to help Martin. From the age of five he’d had Type 1 diabetes, leading to renal failure.

Martin said: “My kidney function had been going down for years and as it got worse I felt permanently tired. I could sleep for eight hours, then sleep for another eight. In 2010 my doctor referred me to Maidstone Dialysis Unit. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they connected me to the machine for four hours to clean my blood. I absolutely hated it and felt suicidal. I came home each time and cried. Around that time Terri came to work in the office and we became good friends.”

Terri said: “The chances of being a match for someone are high if you are related because it’s based on blood and tissue type. I decided to get tested. Although I was only a partial match for Martin they said it was still better to have a kidney from a living rather than a deceased donor.

“I don’t think there was a reason why I agreed to do it other than knowing I could help somebody. It was my idea and when I mentioned it to Martin he was very against it at first as he was more scared of the operation than I was.

“We had to go for counselling to check we were doing it for the right reasons and that I wasn’t being paid. If for whatever reason the kidney was incompatible they asked me if I wanted it thrown away, put back in me or given to someone else. I said it could be given to someone else.”

Martin said: “Years ago I told people I would rather die than have a kidney transplant. Then my grandchildren started coming along (I have seven now) and it changed my perspective.”

Living kidney donors are stringently medically assessed before being accepted as a donor and any surgery going ahead to minimise the risks. 

Terri said: “Martin had to lose weight before they would carry out the operation so I made him walk with me round Mote Park each night and use the stairs at work instead of the lift. I rang him every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday when he was at the clinic to check his weight.”

Finally Martin reached the target weight and the day of the surgery arrived. The operation transformed Martin’s life and in time he was able to return to his job as a surveyor, carrying out site audits for unmetered street furniture such as street lights, signs and traffic lights.

He said: “As soon as they put the kidney in it started working straight away and I left hospital nine days after the surgery. At first it didn’t do anything for my quality of life but they said I would get this sudden kick. It was more gradual than that but I feel fine now, I’m back to normal. It’s fantastic. I can never repay Terri for what she did for me.”

Terri went into anaphylactic shock during the initial surgery, spent seven months in and out of hospital and underwent four further operations. She remains on antibiotics to manage sickness and infections and pain, bloating and discomfort due to contusions on her stomach.

“It has strained our friendship and at times I haven’t wanted to talk to him. I know it’s not his fault, it’s just a natural human response on my part,” said Terri but she adds, “The transformation in Martin far outweighs any complications I had. We have met lots of new friends who are donors or recipients and they had no complications at all.”

The pair talk every day, share an unshakeable bond and Terri has an extra interest in keeping Martin healthy now, gently urging him to keep the weight off he lost before the surgery.

Both colleagues work side by side and recently shared a holiday. Terri, from the Loose area of Maidstone, is working as a site technician managing quotes and connections for highway services connections and spending time with her younger sister Valerie’s much-loved three boys, Lealand, two, Brandon, four, and Alfie, seven. And Martin, from the Mangravet area of town, is enjoying as normal a life as possible, supported by anti-rejection drugs, and injections.

UK Power Networks is donating £3,000 to the Richard Bright Ward at Guys Hospital, in London, where they were treated. Both Terri and Martin praise the NHS for their excellent care.

Completely unprompted, Terri says: “The company has been really good. One of our directors kept visiting me in hospital, plus our head of department and colleagues. I was paid all the time I was in hospital, which is really unusual these days. The company is also paying for me to go on a City and Guilds course again, which I couldn’t complete last year.”