How far would you go to help a stranger?
Bev Bradbury Jones has gone further than most by donating a kidney to someone she has never met.
The number of altruistic kidney donations in the UK has declined in recent years. Last year 66 people gave a kidney to a stranger, compared to 110 in 2014, according to NHS Blood and Transplant.
The majority of living donations take place between people who know each other, or who have been matched through a national sharing scheme.
About 5,000 people are currently waiting for a kidney transplant in the UK and last year about 250 people died before a kidney could be found.
‘I thought why not?’
Bev, 48, from Cwmbran, became an altruistic kidney donor in April
“I signed up to become a bone marrow donor last year and was sent a flyer about becoming a kidney donor – I read it and thought why not?
“I am an impulsive person and I will admit I didn’t tell my family straight away.
“My husband Paul and daughter Cassie were apprehensive but they knew there was no stopping me.
“The process took a year and the doctors tested everything they could, so I had a full MOT.
“I had the operation in April and I was in hospital for two days.
“I had two keyhole incisions and they went in through an old scar, but I did give the surgeon permission to cut me open if they couldn’t do it by keyhole.
“I didn’t want the person waiting for my kidney to be told they weren’t going to get it.
“They took the left kidney because my right was bigger, and they leave the bigger one for you.
“For a few days afterwards I could feel my insides moving to fill the gap, which was strange but that’s stopped now.
“I’ve been told if anything ever happens to my remaining kidney I will be treated as a priority case.
“I have recovered really well. I’m back at work as a shop assistant and I’ve started running again. I’m hoping to take part in the British Transplant Games in Newport later this month.
“I don’t know who had my kidney only that they weren’t in Wales and they were very poorly.
“I just hope they are feeling a lot better now. I would love to meet them, especially if they have a similar sense of humour and we can have a laugh about it.
“After the operation I received a silver pin, which was really special. I’ve had a tattoo of it because of what it signifies.”
‘I donated to my Twitter friend’
Geoff Crowther, 65, from Hayfield in Derbyshire, became a direct donor in February, by giving his kidney to friend Jamie Bowen, 46, from Resolven, Neath Port Talbot
“I became friends with Jamie on Twitter after he asked my advice about wild camping equipment.
“I used to be a leader with the Kinder Mountain Rescue Team and I have a reputation for the outdoors.
“He came to visit us in 2016 and we hit it off. In September 2017 Jamie was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and was put on dialysis in early 2018.
“I asked my wife Chrissie how she would feel if I gave Jamie one of my kidneys and she agreed.
“I sent him a message because I knew if I called him we’d end up in floods of tears.
“Within 48 hours I was put in touch with a living donor co-ordinator.
“I had blood tests at my GP which were sent to be cross matched with Jamie.
“When we found out I was a match I was referred to Manchester Royal Infirmary which is where I had the operation in February.
“I had my operation in the morning and my kidney was blue-lighted to south Wales and put into Jamie the same day.
“The process took nine months, which was frustrating at times. You are warned the tests could find something you weren’t expecting.
“We were also asked about our friendship often because it’s illegal to sell organs in the UK.
“It became a concern in case they decided we didn’t know each other enough but it was fine.
“I underestimated the operation. I had read it was like having an appendix out but I felt completely washed out after it.
“I was in hospital for three days and I was told not to pick up a rucksack or get on a bicycle for six weeks. I was very conscious not to over do it and follow the advice.
“People have described me as a hero which feels slightly embarrassing. I feel privileged to be in a position to help.”
Jamie said: “I thank Geoff every time we speak. Life on dialysis was hell and it’s fantastic to have my life back.
“The experience has changed my perspective, I used to be very career focused and now my health comes first.”
‘I get emotional when I think about it’
Christian Amodeo, 42, from Cardiff, donated his kidney in November 2015 as part of a kidney sharing scheme. His wife Helena, 41, received a kidney from another donor on the same day.
“Helena was diagnosed with the hereditary condition Alport Syndrome in her late 20s.
“It causes kidney failure in men – her brother has had two kidney transplants – but not usually in women.
“We married in 2010 and wanted to start a family but it wasn’t happening.
“By her late 30s her kidneys began to deteriorate quicker and it resulted in renal failure.
“She was told she would be put on a list and hope that something came up.
“That’s when I said I would like to consider giving Helena one of my kidneys.
“I was put in touch with the living donor co-ordinator at the University Hospital of Wales and she was my contact throughout.
“Helena had lots of doctors around her but I felt she had my back.
“I started having tests in January 2015 and by August they said I wasn’t a great match.
“We were put into the sharing scheme and the transplant took place in November 2015.
“It was a three-way swap – my kidney went to a man in north England, his donor gave a kidney to someone in Ireland and their donor gave a kidney to Helena.
“The operations all took place on the same day. I had my operation in the morning but Helena had to wait until her kidney arrived.
“It was strange going into hospital feeling well and coming out feeling ill, my recovery felt slow but I don’t feel any different now. The birth of our daughter last year felt like the end of the journey.”
Helena Amodeo said: “I get emotional when I think about it.
“I’m not sure I could have done it. What Christian and my donor have done is huge and I’ll be eternally grateful. I probably don’t say thank you enough!”
What do the experts say?
Rhian Cooke is a live donor transplant co-ordinator at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
“People need to be physically and psychologically well to donate.
“There is no upper age limit for donors, we have had donors in their 70s.
“We work solely for the donors and we work independently of the transplant team.”