Second Life

November has two dates very close to home to celebrate.  The first date is the 9th.  My husband and life-long partner, Matthew, will be 56 tomorrow.  The second important date is the 12th November.  We remember each 12th of November as the day Matthew received a “second life”.

Since 1993 when Matthew was around 34, he knew that he had a kidney condition which would eventually result in zero kidney function.  The condition was caught early so medication was able to slow the disease process as much as possible, however by 2007 Matthew was weak and ill so the time came to start dialysis.  He began dialysis just before Christmas, 2007.

Matthew hooked up to a dialysis machine in 2008.

Matthew hooked up to a dialysis machine in 2008.

Dialysis means being hooked up to a machine (a mechanical kidney) at least three times a week for five hours at a time.  There are many variations on this but I’m keeping it simple. Your blood passes through the machine many times during each session and is cleaned; wastes being removed.  You may not drink more than a litre of fluid every 24 hours, taking into account the fluid which is already in food.  So you always have a craving thirst 24/7 which is never satisfied.  It also means not being able to urinate any more.  Waste fluids are taken care of with dialysis. You are on an extremely restricted diet and you feel tired and ill most of the time.  Not to mention the complications…which I won’t.  It is heart-wrenching to witness.

Waiting lists for kidney transplants are years long.  I wanted to donate my kidney to Matt but my blood group was A and his was B which meant I couldn’t.   We joined a brand new   “paired kidney exchange program” started by Professor Paolo Ferrari, Director of the West Australian Kidney Exchange and Head of Renal Department at Fremantle Hospital.   Prof. Ferrari established the program in W.A. in October 2007 and led a team of transplant physicians and surgeons in performing the first paired kidney transplant in November 2008.   The exchange of kidneys was previously illegal in Western Australia but Prof. Ferrari lobbied the government and the amendment was changed in 2007.

I declared that I wanted to be part of the program; that is, I wanted to be able to donate my kidney to an anonymous person with an A blood type so that Matthew, in turn, could receive a kidney from another anonymous person with B blood.  For me this meant many months of “work-up” to see that I was mentally and physically able to cope with letting go of one of my kidneys.  Tests, tests, tests.  With every hospital visit and test I felt sure that the operations would go ahead.  For Matthew in the dialysis chair, he was afraid to put too much faith into such a modern day miracle.  He thought he would have to wait for a deceased person’s kidney to become available…if it ever did.  We simply had to wait and hope.

My journal entry of 21st August 2008:  “Matt emailed Paolo to tell him we were starting training for home dialysis [as opposed to having dialysis in a medical centre].  Paolo rang Matt straight away and said he didn’t want us to start training as he had a couple for us…for a transplant!  Seems we will have our transplants in November!  We are seeing Paolo tomorrow at 9 a.m.  Can’t wait!”

It turned out that we would be part of SIX operations involving three donors and three recipients.  None of us would meet one another.  It was all done in total confidentiality. (However I can say that the donors were women and the recipients were men.)  On 11th and 12th November the operations took place at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Here is a description from a newspaper: “The WA trial has already gone further by achieving an Australian-first three-way domino chain of transplants.  It started with an altruistic stranger who offered to donate a kidney to someone in need.  His wife then donated one of her kidneys to another man on the paired exchanged program [Matt], and his wife [me] did the same for another man.  The chain ended there only because the third recipient did not have a partner able to donate a kidney, but potentially it could go much further.”

This photo was taken by daughter, Alicia, five days after our operations.  I had been discharged from hospital three days after my op.  Here I was visiting Matthew who was still an in-patient.  He went home after 8 days.

This photo was taken by daughter, Alicia, five days after our operations. I had been discharged from hospital three days after my op. Here I was visiting Matthew who was still an in-patient. He went home after 8 days.

In 2009 the program expanded from West Australian to national.  Can you believe that kidneys from live donors are winging their way across Australia to reach their recipients in different states?  Imagine the logistics.  And all this was established, and is still run, by Prof Ferrari and Claudia Woodroffe, Australian Kidney Transplant (AKX) Coordinator at Fremantle Hospital.  (Claudia is a very dear friend.)

Matt and I are just two people whose lives have been changed by Paolo and his team.   Quote from “The Australian” newspaper – 4th April 2009, “Matthew and Julie Clements have nothing but praise for Ferrari, whom they call “Saint Paolo”.

Indeed, Paolo has taken Matthew (and so many other people across Australia) off death row and allowed them to have fulfilling and healthy Second Lives.  We are so fortunate to have been part of this scheme.

Professor Ferrari with us in a photo taken by Andy Tyndall from The Weekend Australian: 4-5 April 2009.  The story was "Chain of goodwill saves lives".

Professor Ferrari with us in a photo taken by Andy Tyndall from The Weekend Australian: 4-5 April 2009. The story was “Chain of goodwill saves lives”.

THANK YOU PROFESSOR PAOLO FERRARI: PHYSICIAN AND FRIEND!

Matthew in 2014. This is Second Life.

Matthew in 2014.
This is Second Life…six years post-op and many happy returns.

8th June 2015: Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  Professor Paolo FERRARI has been awarded Officer of the Order of Australia “For distinguished service to medicine in the discipline of nephrology, as a clinician scientist, to the establishment of innovative renal transplantation programs, and to medical education”.

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About juliepodstolski

I am a realist artist who works in coloured pencils.
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29 Responses to Second Life

  1. Fran Woods says:

    Congratulations to you both. Most of us have never been presented with such a huge decision to make. The fact that you were able to donate a kidney, even tho you knew it wasn’t actually going to your husband is quite heroic, I feel. It saddens me that we have one of the lowest donation rates in Australia. And even when you nominate to donate an organ, it doesn’t always happen, because of the circumstances, and where you die. Some towns aren’t set up to deal with such a procedure.
    However, you have a happy ending, and I wish you both all the best. I look forward to seeing more of your work Julie.

    • A transplant was a light at the end of a tunnel, Fran. Not all medical conditions have the opportunity for such a light. Without the vision and work of Prof. Ferrari, I might be a widow by now. It was no difficulty at all to make the decision to donate a kidney for Matt.

  2. Barbara moore says:

    What a heart warming story of courage, love and giving. May you both continue to enjoy many more birthdays together.

  3. sherrytelle says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderfully uplifting story of yours. It was simply inspirational! Once again my day is better for having read your blog my lovely Cousin! Wishing a Happy Birthday to Matthew, and many more second life happy returns for both of you!

  4. What a lovely storey and the best type of anniversary ever. What a great scheme it makes such sense and gives so many others a second chance too. Karen

  5. It seems that we both joined the single kidney club around the same time! While my deceased kidney was removed in November 2010 it had likely died 1-2 years prior to the operation. Maybe it was meant to be? 😉

  6. Joanne Hayman says:

    Julie and Matt, the blessings God brings, wherever there are caring and loving people. What a wonderful gift to all those involved in your “domino group.” And what a gift God has given you Julie! I look at your paintings and know His hand is holding yours. Your paintings are amazing, and I love your blog too! May The Lord continue to bless you, Matt, and Julie for being willing to share your kidney to a stranger. ‘Share the Joy,’ Joanne HAYMAN

  7. Amanda Simes says:

    Hi Julie and Matt. Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey of how kidney disease affects the family and your journey to recovery. I was touched and overwhelmed with both your stories of wanting to help other people to survive kidney disease. Not only are you an extremely talented artists and Matt with his voice you want to help others. Second chances are the best and life looks so good for Matt. Blessings to both of you Amanda Simes mother of Peter Simes who is Spooky Men’s number one fan.

    • Hello Amanda, what a lovely message to us. Peter sure is Spooky Men’s number one fan. Matt and I often talk about Peter’s special relationship with the Spooks. They are, of course, performing this very weekend at Dunsborough Songfest.
      While Matt is in the thick of people and music, I am at home with Japanese geisha music on my stereo, trying to capture a rather melancholy geiko expression. Each to his/her own.
      Blessings to you and your family too, Amanda!

  8. Isabelle says:

    Happy birthday to Matt! And you expressed so well what had happened to you both several years ago. An act of pure love , Julie, how special you are…

  9. andyroz says:

    Happy Birthday old man! 🙂

  10. and may there be many more happy and healthy years to come !!!!

  11. This is such an inspiring and life affirming story. I always feel there is such a bond of love and trust between you and Matthew and this has to have a lot to do with it. I’d like to think I would would be as quick to volunteer myself in a similar situation, but it is a huge undertaking. There must have been some very fearful days for you both as Matthew became more and more sick. Thank goodness for such a great outcome. Long live pioneering doctors, and willing patients! No wonder you both embrace life so fully. Many, many happy returns.

    • I’m sure you would do the same thing, Anna. We had to try to bury the fear and instead use that trust you mention, and TRUST the medical team. Our trust proved to be warranted. It is times like that time when one is so glad to live in Australia.
      Of course I am still like a mother hen nagging Matt to take his immunosuppressive medication twice per day. I drive him crazy.

  12. Robyn Varpins says:

    You both have hearts the size of mountains and are very lucky to have each other…. enjoy!

  13. julie says:

    I remember when this was all taking event. What an inspiration for us all. Yes….so lucky to have each other xxx

  14. stefan2009 says:

    That’s a so touching story Julie 😥 . By chance some day ago I have read the story of the Kidney machine’s inventor Willem Kolff during the Second World War. This man was a benefactor of mankind.

    Happy Birthday to your husband and a long life together with you :).

  15. Sue D says:

    My best friend participated in a Kidney transplant circle for her only sibling brother. I am so proud of her, you and all the others who make that choice for a second chance at life for others.

    • Thank you, Sue. I feel honoured to have been part of the programme. I have never regretted parting with a kidney; indeed, I wouldn’t even know that I only have one. It makes not a jot of difference to my life.

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