Helen Wilson knows only too well the huge benefits of organ donation – she is the recipient of two lifesaving organ transplants.
Helen aged 56 from Wokingham, has had both a kidney transplant, which was lovingly donated by her brother in 2007, and a liver transplant in December 2013 following diagnoses of both polycystic kidney and liver disease.
She was previously fit and well before she first fell ill with polycystic kidney disease, which led to her having both her kidneys removed and undergoing dialysis treatment for five hours, three times per week.
Helen said: “I became very ill very quickly with the disease and it was a scary and surreal experience. Once I had both kidneys removed the dialysis treatment was incredibly draining and my body wasn’t responding as well as the doctors would have liked.
“Then my brother rang me up and asked me what he needed to do to become a donor. After six months of tests for both of us he was a good match and I underwent the transplant in February 2007. I felt better overnight – the difference the transplant made was amazing and it felt wonderful to get my life back. It was the most generous thing my brother could ever do and I will always be truly thankful.”
After her kidney transplant Helen’s life went back to normal and she resumed her job as Head of HR at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Sadly for Helen in 2013 she discovered she had polycystic liver disease and her liver became enlarged and her body quickly became full of fluid.
Helen continued: “I knew that there was a high chance of me getting the condition because of what happened with my kidneys.
“Because my liver wasn’t functioning properly my body was literally filling with fluid – to the point where when my cat scratched me I began leaking fluid. I could hardly move from the sofa it was so debilitating. I had been placed on the organ donor list to undergo a liver transplant however I was off at one point as I was deemed too unwell to be on the list.
“In October 2013 I was taken into the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and we found out that one of the cysts on my liver had burst. I was transferred to Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the doctors there drained two litres of poison from the cyst and I was immediately put back on the transplant list.
“Due to the nature of my condition I needed a high quality organ and I finally got the call in December 2013 to tell me that I was going to receive my much needed transplant.
“The liver transplant went well and, despite some initial complications, I have made a wonderful and full recovery. Yet again it was brilliant to get my life back and just doing everyday tasks like the housework and the food shopping became a joy!
“During my time at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust I was introduced to the Westfield Health British Transplant Games. The staff and previous participants at the Hospital told me about the event and encouraged me to attend the 2014 Games, which were taking place in Bolton.
“I went along as a spectator to the opening ceremony and I was very emotional and began crying when I saw the donor families and listened to them talking about how proud they were to be attending the Games. I instantly knew that I had to take part and compete in the Games in 2015.
“In January 2015, I joined a local gym in Bracknell and in May 2015 I started training with one of the coaches, Ken Spencer, at Bracknell Athletics Club to improve my overall fitness and try and get some technique under my belt. I competed in the 100m, 200m and the archery at The Westfield Health British Transplant Games in Newcastle in 2015 and secured a bronze medal in the archery and personal best times in the other two events. I was over the moon!
“Two years ago I took part in the Games in Liverpool and participated in five events and took home gold medals in both archery and javelin and achieved a personal best in 100m. I also won silver in the long jump and bronze in the 200m.
Last year I competed in the Games in Motherwell in Scotland and secured a bronze in archery, a silver in the 100m and gold in javelin, shot and discus.
“Taking part in the Games has been an absolutely fantastic experience for me and I am delighted to be heading to Birmingham where I will be taking part in the archery, discus, shot and javelin events.
“Personally I feel that the Westfield Health British Transplant Games are all about showcasing the benefits of organ donation and celebrating life as well as ensuring that as many people as possible not only join the organ donation register, but also express their organ donation wishes with their loves ones.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have received two organ transplants and I will never forget what my brother did for me or what my donor’s family went through to enable me to receive the lifesaving organ. I write to my donor’s family every year and they have shown amazing generosity by replying. Luckily for me, they observed the wishes of their loved one at the saddest time of times which truly enabled me to have the gift of life and I, my family and friends will always be grateful.”