News

Give the gift of life

By Jessica Ball

My eyes opened from a restless sleep in a humid Ho Chi Minh City apartment.

I reached for my phone. It was still early back home but it flashed with a message from Mum. Maybe that's what woke me I thought.

“I'm going to Melbourne, call when you can,” the message read.

With heart rapidly beating and clammy hands, my head jumped to the worst possible conclusion.

My mum has polycystic kidney disease; an inherited, chronic disease that gradually makes it harder for the kidneys to work as they should.

Her life is a series of hospital visits. Three days a week she is attached to a machine from 9 am until 2 pm to keep her kidneys functioning.

And every now and then things go wrong and she ends up in a Melbourne hospital.

I tried WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. I tried calling Mum and then I tried calling Dad. I couldn't get through.

When Dad finally answered with a rustle of running and banging in the background I knew instantly it was an emergency.

“Mum's getting a transplant,” he yelled down the phone. "We'll talk when we're in the car.”

Tears of shock, relief, happiness and fear ran down my face as I sat feeling useless in Vietnam knowing there was no way I could see her before the surgery.

It didn't happen until late that night and the next morning I got the call to say the transplant had been successful.

Just over 24 hours later I met a new woman in a Melbourne hospital bed, someone who was talking about the future in a way she hadn't dared to before, planning holidays and celebrations for milestones.

The only tears we shed were for the person who lost their life for this to be possible and for those who have been waiting on the transplant list longer.

I told anyone who would listen.

Sure, there was recovery to come and a chance of rejection but my mum had received a kidney, the gift of life.

Maybe I was naive but I just didn't consider that the transplant might not work. Then things changed.

Mum was in pain, Dad was in tears and one evening when visiting hours ended she told us she hadn't given up but she was sorry if she didn't make it through the night.

When the surgeon came to talk to Dad and I, the look on his face made me sit up and prepare for the words, "we did everything we could.”

It was a relief to hear it was "only" the transplant kidney died.

A clot had formed deep in the organ and nothing could be done to save it. Six days post-transplant it was removed.

In that moment I felt like Mum had lost her only chance of returning to normal life.

But after a second major surgery in a week, the bravest woman in ICU told me she wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

She was calm and positive as she explained she just knew it wasn't the right one and one day she'd get the call that they had found the perfect match.

And for my mum to get a second chance another kidney has to become available.

Donate life by signing up to become an organ donor at donatelife.gov.au

Jessica Ball is features and special publications editorial coordinator at The News.