Organ Donation Week 2018: Norfolk woman shares ‘life changing’ impact of living kidney donation
PUBLISHED: 14:16 05 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:38 05 September 2018
A north Norfolk mother-of-two and the living donor who gave her one of his kidneys have spoken movingly about how the donation transformed both of their lives.
Helen Glasspoole-Young, 33, has suffered from the autoimmune disease, lupus, since the age of 13.
And nine years ago, her kidneys were rapidly deteriorating, and she had been undergoing dialysis three times a week for two years.
But the beauty therapist’s life was changed for good in July 2009, when she finally got the call that her perfect match had been found.
Her donor was a 68-year-old retiree from a village near Stoke-on-Trent, Bill Hitchen.
Mrs Glasspoole-Young, from Briston, said: “It was obviously very scary but straightforward.
“At the time we had never met Bill. He had his operation done in Birmingham and they got it to Addenbrookes very quickly.
“It was a four hour operation and I was in hospital for a week.
“I kept getting infections so they changed my medication, and after that, touch wood, it’s been okay.”
She added: “Once I started to get better, after a few weeks I felt really well - it was life changing.”
Mr Hitchen, now 77, said: “It first came about when I was 65 and could no longer donate blood.
“A year later the law changed to allow anonymous donations but it took me 28 months to pass the test.
“When they told me it had gone to a 24-year-old girl I was over the moon. The rewards just keep on coming.”
Mr Hitchen said he wanted to make the donation due to his “gratitude and faith in the NHS,” after his wife’s cancer treatment.
And Mrs Glasspoole-Young and her husband Iain, 33, manager of the Cromer and District Hospital, went on to have two children, two-year-old Hector, born in 2016, and Mia, delivered by Caesarean section just a month ago.
Mrs Glasspoole-Young said: “I was very lucky to be able to fall pregnant, and that my kidneys could cope. They thought I might have to have IVF, and I did have two miscarriages in between.”
And earlier this year, in April, Bill and Helen and their families met for the very first time.
Mrs Glasspoole-Young said: “It felt like we were part of the family.
They live in Stoke so we visited and spent an afternoon with them.
“He got quite emotional when he realised his kidney was given to someone young - I was only 24.”
And Mr Hitchen added seeing the impact of his donation was “better than winning the lottery.”
Organ Donation Week 2018
Organ Donation Week in the UK is from Monday, September 3 to Sunday, September 9 2018.
Helen Glasspoole-Young, who received a kidney from living donor, Bill Hitchen, in 2009, said the science of donation is improving all the time.
She said: “Hopefully if more people donate, they can do things to make it work.
“With the drugs we have now, you don’t always have to be the perfect match. It’s getting better every year.”
Mrs Glasspoole-Young added: “The problem with the opt-in/opt-out thing is some people never get the chance to have that conversation.
“If people could just tick that box there would be more donations going through.
“It is a scary subject but you can specify which organs, if you feel strongly about it.
“The more we can publicise organ donation, the more people’s lives it will change.”
Why do living donors choose to donate?
Bill Hitchen, who donated to one of his kidneys to then 24-year-old Helen Glasspoole-Young, spoke openly about his decision to undergo the procedure.
Mr Hitchen said: “I spoke to a doctor I know and they said you can only donate to friends or family.”
But after a change in the law a year later, Mr Hitchen was able to go through with his donation to a stranger.
He said: “When I knew it was going ahead I thought my kidney would go to a middle aged or retired person.
“The other thing that I’ve realised is that although you’re giving someone like Helen a chance, when you look at the waiting list, there are people right at the bottom who drop off and die while they’re waiting because an organ doesn’t come along.
“For everyone who donates, they’re also passing along something to someone on the very bottom of the list.”
Mr Hitchen added his wife Kathy, and daughters Karen and Julie, were involved and supportive of his decision.