This is Rebecca’s tribute to her wonderful husband, Keith. Keith was the recipient of Rebecca’s kidney in October 2010. Then two months later, suddenly and unexpectedly Keith passed away. Please read Rebecca’s tribute to her husband. One of Keith’s greatest wishes was that people sign the organ donor register. Here in the UK you can sign up via this link – Organ Donor Register.
This is a tribute to my dearest, bravest husband. I miss him so terribly, painfully, much.
Keith and Rebecca
Keith and I never had any doubts about our life together. We married less than six months after our first date.
Shortly after we got married, we decided to buy our first house together and Keith had to have a medical for the mortgage. We discovered that he had kidney disease (glomerulonephritis). He was in his 20’s and this came as this most enormous shock.The first doctor he saw told him fairly brutally that he would be on dialysis by the time he was 40.
The years went on and I watched his health and diet so carefully. Our local renal unit monitored his health regularly. The years went on. 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 and 45 came and went and with each landmark where he still had sufficient kidney function not to need dialysis he was so pleased, although there were noticeable changes to his health. Increasing levels of medication became part of our lives.
Meanwhile, we did as much as possible together. Knowing that in future, he might be on dialysis and our lives limited dramatically by that, we simply did as much as we possibly could. He said that even if we couldn’t do anything in future, we would still have our photo albums to look at. Whatever happened, we were certain that we could cope with it, simply because we had each other.
In 2010, after his 45th birthday, he deteriorated so far that dialysis or a transplant were necessary.
He started to think about the type of dialysis that he would prefer, although “prefer” is not really an appropriate word to use about anything so unpleasant.
But at the same time, we started the process to find out if I were a suitable donor. We already knew from an earlier scare that I am the wrong blood group, but this isn’t always a barrier. So summer 2010 was fairly grim, backwards and forwards to hospitals for so many tests. I found them frequently upsetting and intrusive, as I loathe being touched by strangers, but the idea that he would be able to have a transplant and get his life back was so wonderful that the only thing that mattered to me was that the transplant should go ahead. Hospitals have to be very concerned about the health of the donor and I had a huge number of meetings with people who warned me about the very many things that could go wrong for me. They also explained the risks that the kidney might fail. But the chances with a transplant from a healthy living donor are good. They do not spend much time on the potential risk to the recipient, other than explaining the usual risks from surgery. The quality of life for someone on dialysis is frankly poor and the long term health risks are such that transplants are infinitely superior. Well, usually.
People wonder how easy it is to make the decision to be a donor, and for me it was very easy. I wanted to do it for him, for us and for our future together. If I had a kidney that I could do without, then it made perfect sense for him to have it.
We were so happy when I turned out to be a suitable donor, and the surgery could be arranged quickly so there was no need for him to start dialysis. He was very brave about considering it, but he really dreaded the idea of his life revolving around it. So each step that brought us closer to a transplant was an opportunity to rejoice.
In October 2010, we moved to a dismal hostel on site at Addenbrookes. Keith had some very gruelling sessions of plasmapheresis immediately before the surgery was scheduled to remove his antibodies, to increase the chance of success from an incompatible donor. And we were so happy and relieved when we were finally admitted to the transplant ward, and the next morning when we were told that we would have our surgeries at more or less the same time. I was perfectly happy to accept the risks to myself. As the needle went into my arm in the operating theatre, I felt completely ok with the idea that I might not wake up. I had done everything I could. But I did wake up, and they kept me in the recovery ward long enough for Keith to join me. His first words as he came round were about the things we would now be able to do together.
The surgery had been successful, the kidney worked and everything looked wonderful.
We both had to stay in hospital a little longer than expected; me because of some minor complications and Keith rather longer because he reacted quite badly to the huge cocktail of medication he had to take. But finally we were back home together again, taking care of each other as we recovered from the surgery. It was just such utter happiness to feel our lives starting to come back to us. We made plans. Keith and I had always planned to go to London to see the new year’s eve fireworks. So this year, he booked an extravagant stay at a hotel that overlooks the London Eye, with a gala dinner, champagne on the terrace at midnight while watching the fireworks and so on. It cost a small fortune, but he said we deserved it after the rotten summer of hospitals, and pain and difficulty of the transplant.
The new kidney continued to work well. Keith’s twice weekly visits to the clinic at Addenbrookes were reduced to once a week, because he was doing so well. He was relieved about this, not just because it was such a good sign, but also because he found making the journey to Cambridge fairly gruelling.
We started to make small outings together, pottering around the city, and congratulated ourselves on this. Just being able to do a little Christmas shopping with him was such a joy for me. I had suffered some nerve damage following the surgery and he was worried about this, so he took particular care of me, so that I wouldn’t be put under any strain and did everything for me – walking the dogs, taking my Christmas parcels to the post for me, and so on. Keith planned our Christmas celebrations. He put up some Christmas decorations – far fewer than we usually have, but still being slightly fragile from the surgery it was best that way. Every evening, as we sat down together in the sitting room, he told me how lovely the Christmas tree was. He ordered the food for the Christmas dinner – cooking it is his speciality – he adores every detail. We invited lots of people to visit.
He had so many plans for next year, and there were so many things we were looking forward to doing, particularly resuming the travelling that we loved and hadn’t been able to do so much this year because of his health. I suggested that he steady on – my only concern was that the kidney might fail. But we would have handled that because we would have been together. Being together was always the best and most important thing.
He was so committed to his recovery, assuring me that as I had given him the gift of a kidney it was his duty to look after it. He took plenty of exercise, ate so healthily and slept well. He never complained about the enormous quantity of medication he had to take. He used three shelves in the wardrobe in the spare room to house it all and pinned up the pharmacist’s chart to help him keep track of it. I made a list of all the food that, having a non-existent immune system, he couldn’t eat, and put it on the fridge to remind him. People who have to take immunosuppressants are particularly vulnerable to skin cancers, so he began a routine of applying sunscreen every morning, and was so proud to tell me that he was remembering.
Quite simply, we had every reason to be happy and to look forward. And we were so very happy.
And then on 15th December, I saw him sitting on the floor in the hall. I thought he had fainted, but when I touched him, he was so cold even though the house was warm. The paramedics came quickly and worked on him for so long that I believed there was hope that I might get my most beloved husband back. But the hope was false one. And every bit of the hope, joy and optimism we had was so false that it feels so bitter now. The only comfort is that he never knew that. He only knew the optimism and the plans we made.
The post mortem showed that the primary cause of death was pulmonary thromboembolism. I know that this is a risk after surgery. But I thought that only happened to people who didn’t take sufficient exercise, and I had no idea it could happen so long after the surgery. I still cannot believe it happened to him. I can only feel resentful that it was Keith that went, not me. My surgery was more actually more serious and more potentially dangerous. And he was the one whose health was being intensively monitored. So it feels unutterably cruel that he is not still here.
So this is a tribute to my dearest, bravest husband. I miss him so terribly, painfully, much.
If you would like to make a donation to his preferred charity, Kidney Research UK, please go to this Just Giving page where you can safely donate via the blue button directly to the charity http://www.justgiving.com/Rebecca-Farwell
What would have have meant so very much to Keith was for everyone to join the organ donor register. People joining in his memory would be a great legacy. In the UK, you can join at UK Transplant.
April 2011: Rebecca has now set up a Yahoo Groups for people bereaved through Living Donation. To quote from her email: “
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