A stranger’s gift of life

Story for Organ Transplant Week- Michael Butcher, of Weymouth Road in Marton, was given a new lease of life when he received a kidney transplant six years ago.'Michael in his garden.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'7-7-2011
Story for Organ Transplant Week- Michael Butcher, of Weymouth Road in Marton, was given a new lease of life when he received a kidney transplant six years ago.'Michael in his garden. PIC BY ROB LOCK'7-7-2011
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At first, Michael Butcher thought the 2am phone call from Manchester Royal Infirmary was a prank by friends. But it was a matter of life and death. His life, a young woman’s death. No laughing matter.

Within an hour, he was dressed, packed and travelling from his home at Weymouth Road, Marton, by cab to Manchester to meet medics holding the gift of life, a kidney, a near-match for his own ailing organ, donated on the death of an 18-year-old student at Leeds from meningitis.

He knew that, in another hospital, hours earlier, a young woman had died, her parents distraught.

Michael doesn’t have any children and admits: “I can’t begin to comprehend their loss.”

Their loss, his gain.

He hopes after National Transplant Week, which ended last night – the aim being to raise awareness of the importance of registering to donate organs – others will come to appreciate just what a difference their generosity made.

There are 10,000 people currently waiting for an organ transplant in the UK. Three die a day.

To this day, Michael is walking, talking testimony to the kindness of a stranger, and the compassion of her parents in agreeing to honour her last wishes.

Today the former telecom engineer, who lives near Stanley Park, is as fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog. He’s several stone lighter, thanks to dieting his way to a better chance of pre-and-post operative success. “The surgeons wouldn’t have touched me had I not lost two stone,” he adds. “There’s nothing like the thought of premature death to focus the mind.”

Such was Michael’s health, he was sent to surgery almost immediately, after receiving the summons that a kidney had become available. He spent three hours on the operating table. His new kidney began functioning straightaway.

“I remember coming round from the operation and the first thing I needed was a bed pan,” recalls Michael, 63. “Forgive me for being personal, but I hadn’t had a proper wee for ages, because my kidneys were packing up. And that’s the first thing I needed. It showed the kidney was working perfectly. Some don’t. They do into a sort of limbo. Mine was firing on all cylinders.”

Not that he felt like it was his kidney, not at first.

“I knew it had come from a young girl. I knew her parents must have been devastated and then had to deal with the harvesting of her organs. I knew I wanted to thank them, to tell them how much it meant to me, how it gave me life when I’d been fast tracking to the grave. I was about a month off dialysis. I was dreading it. I wanted to stay alive long enough to get a kidney transplant. I was lucky. But I knew my luck had come at another human being’s cost, the loss of her life.”

Michael’s initial attempts to thank his donor’s parents failed. “Maybe now, that some time has passed, I may try again, it’s something I feel I must do. I’ve had my ups and downs health-wise, because my immune system is compromised, and I’m still on anti-rejection drugs, which cause other problems, but I feel so much better than before.

“Six, seven years ago, I felt I was at death’s door. I had a raging thirst all the time and tired really easily. I was exhausted. It was taking me hours to do work that previously took minutes.”

Tests by his GP revealed his kidney was functioning at 10-15 per cent of its capacity. The biggest tell-tale indicator was his creatinine blood levels, more than 800 at their highest, compared to an average of 8-120 for most healthy individuals.

The bombshell verdict of kidney failure was delivered. “I was told I would need to go on dialysis, which was a huge shock to me. I was utterly depressed and tried hard to become resigned to it.

“About a month before that was due to start, we got that 2am call and off I went for the operation.

“It’s altered my life completely. Your kidneys are your filter mechanism and you rely on them for so much of your health.

“I reckon it started when I went back-packing and got a really bad bug, from drinking tainted water, which left me utterly weak. I think that’s when my kidneys started packing in. Now I am really active and take the dogs for long walks, enjoy my golf, and gardening again, and feel fantastic.”

Michael admits he didn’t give organ donation a second thought – before falling ill. “Now I know that just one person on the register can make a huge difference – across a wide range of areas, including sight. What are you waiting for? Be that person.”