Woman finally receives two new organs after first seven attempts went wrong
Since she was three years old, Karen Denton has lived with type 1 diabetes.
For most of her life, it was well managed and although she needed daily insulin injections, it didn’t have a huge impact.
But a few years ago, she picked up a bad virus and it caused problems for her kidneys.
18 months ago, she was told her kidney function had gone to 25% and as it continued to deteriorate, she was placed on a transplant list.
As she needed a kidney transplant, she was offered a pancreas transplant as it is the organ that produces insulin and controls blood sugar levels but stops working in those with diabetes.
And after seven occasions where she got the call offering her new organs, only for it to be unsuitable at the last minute, she is finally going into the new year with a new kidney and pancreas, bringing her kidney function back up and meaning she no longer has diabetes.
Karen, from Dartford, Kent, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘This has changed my life for the better and I am never going to take for granted what my donor and their family has done for me.’
When Karen, now 46, was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, treatment was not as advanced as it is now.
She explains: ‘You didn’t have blood testing and had to test urine instead. You boiled glass syringes and injected twice a day.
‘I’ve always done as well as I could with my diabetes but because it’s been such a long time, and treatment at the start wasn’t as good as it is now, it did have an impact on my body.’
A few years ago, she developed a virus which took a few weeks to pass. Afterwards, she found that she was really struggling with fatigue, but otherwise felt ok.
During her routine check-up at her diabetes clinic, they discovered that her kidneys were damaged and were working at just 25%.
She says: ‘It was the first time I’d ever had any issues with my kidneys so it was quite a shock. They said that it was likely to deteriorate further and it was likely that at some point I would need a transplant.
‘I was thinking it had taken over 40 years to drop 75% so I thought a transplant would be something like 10 years away.’
In September 2018, she went for another appointment and they told her it had dropped to just under 20%, so she would need to be placed on the transplant list.
‘I was still feeling quite well, still working full-time and I really was surprised,’ she says.
‘As I was going to have a kidney transplant, they talked to me about having a pancreas transplant at the same time.
‘It meant I may have to wait longer as a kidney can come from a live donor but a pancreas cannot, plus they’ve have to find someone where both organs were suitable to be transplanted.
‘But at the same time, having the pancreas transplant meant I would no longer be type 1 diabetic and it would reduce the risk of damaging the new kidney or any further complications from having the condition for so long.’
Karen decided to go with the dual transplant option and was placed on the list in October 2018.
Over the course of the next two years, Karen got the call to say they’d found a donor seven times.
Six of those times, she was already in hospital preparing for surgery when they told her something had gone wrong.
She explains: ‘I remember the very first time I got a call, I was at work and it was all stations go. I rang my husband and mum to tell them I was going in and I got there and they told me they were sorry but it wasn’t suitable.
‘Each of the times after that, I would get more psyched up thinking “this could be the one” but in the back of my mind I would be thinking about not getting my hopes up too much because of the other times.
‘Most of the times I was in a hospital bed, in a gown, had bloods done and had been seen by the anaesthetist when then they said it wouldn’t happen.
‘Sometimes it was because one of the organs had been damaged during removal, sometimes it was because the pancreas was a bit fatty, one time it was because there was another very poorly patient who needed it more than me.
‘Every time I would completely understand that either someone needed something more than me or that it wasn’t right, but it was hard not to be disappointed at the same time.’
In October this year, two years after going on the transplant list, Karen got her eighth call – and this time, it was able to go ahead.
She says: ‘I had been trying not to get too psyched up so when they said it really was happening I was relieved.
‘They couldn’t tell me too much but they told me the donor was quite young and that meant the organs were really healthy so I did feel quite positive.
‘As I was lying in the anesthetic room, I was nervous and a bit frightened because it is a major operation and you don’t know quite what will happen.
‘I had amazing care throughout and luckily, it all went to plan.’
When she came round from the eleven and a half hour long procedure, she was expecting to be in hospital for around 20 days, which was hard as she wasn’t able to have any visitors due to the pandemic.
Karen recovered quickly though and was able to go home after nine days to continue to rest at home with her husband Gary.
Now almost three months on, Karen is doing well and her two new organs have transformed her life.
She says: ‘I feel good. I’m out walking my dog up to four miles a day and managing to do bits and pieces indoors.
‘I still have to be careful because I am vulnerable during the pandemic but I am hoping to go back to work, mainly from home, in January.’
Her kidney function is now at 60% and her pancreas at 100%, meaning she is not diabetic for the first time in 43 years.
She says: ‘That is really bizarre because it was just a big part of my life every day for as long as I could remember.
‘It’s nice not having to inject myself everyday and not having so much stuff to carry around. I do still try to eat the same things because I’m used to it now and a diabetic diet is just a healthy diet, but I might sneak in the off piece of cake or something without having to worry about what it will do to my blood sugars.’
Karen is telling her story to encourage others to talk to their family about their wishes surrounding organ donation.
Although there is now an opt out system in place, meaning you are automatically a donor unless you opt out, families are still asked about their loved one’s wishes.
She says: ‘I know that for any family, talking about organ donation when they are losing somebody is very difficult. I understand that people have different beliefs around organ donation but it does mean there is this legacy that the person you have lost goes on to help other people.
‘For quite a few weeks after the transplant, every time I sort of thought about the person who made the donation I got upset, thinking “well, for me to have this, somebody’s not here anymore”.
‘They told me it was a young man, so you do think about that and that’s a bit difficult.
‘Then, on the other hand, you think about what a kind thing it is what they’ve done and a part of you wants to make sure that, whatever you do, from this point onwards, you want to look after yourself and the gift you’ve been given.’
For more information on organ donation, visit the NHS Blood and Transplant website.
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