To Samantha Dalton, her dad, Barry, is the hero of her real-life story. Just two days after her wedding, BBC journalist, Samantha Dalton, found out her kidneys were failing. Within a year, she was in need of a transplant. That’s when her dad, Barry, stepped in. It might sound like a cliché, but Barry gave Samantha a second chance at life. By donating a kidney, anyone can do exactly that for someone with kidney disease. It gives the patient hope at having something like a normal life.
The story began two days after Samantha married her husband, Justin. They were driving to a friend’s house on a lovely summer evening. They were due to fly out to Austria early the morning after. That’s when the phone rang.
Recently, Samantha’s GP had asked her to come in for some blood tests after a routine check-up showed that she had high blood pressure with no obvious cause. “I think you need to head to A&E as soon as possible,” her doctor told her. “Your kidneys might be failing.”
She was 34 at the time. And her doctor was right, her kidneys were failing. They had been slowly for several years and no one had a clue. Tests showed Samantha had a disease named IgA Nephropathy, also called Berger’s disease. Over time, a problem with an antibody named IgA had caused damage to the filters of the kidney which strip the blood of toxins and excess liquid and turns it into the urine. The worst part was that there is no cure. Samantha’s life suddenly began to fall apart right in front of her.
Taking medication to treat her high blood pressure helped stabilize Samantha’s kidney function for a little while. It allowed her to go on her honeymoon to Australia and lead a relatively normal life. Despite all of that, the fear of kidney failure was constantly at the back of her mind.
Samantha and her husband, Justin, were able to enjoy their honeymoon in Australia before the transplant happened. But, in May, Samantha’s kidneys started to decline rapidly. Her consultant put her on a grueling regime of corticosteroids to ease the inflammation. All the same, she suffered badly with all the side effects. She had trouble sleeping, she gained weight, had terrible mood swings, and developed the dreaded moon-face.
To Samantha, this was her emotional low point, by far. She became ashamed of her appearance. She didn’t want to look in the mirror or be photographed, let alone see anyone she knows in the street. The medicine regime only lasted six weeks but it felt like an eternity to her. She was miserable. When she found out the treatment wasn’t working and she would need a transplant, Samantha said she was almost relieved. On the way home from the hospital, she called her parents and said, “It’s not worked, I’m going to need a transplant soon.”
Their reply was, “Tell us who we need to talk to, and we’ll start the testing”. Justin, and Samantha’s sister, Laura, were both willing to be tested. She couldn’t help but feel grateful and humbled – there are so many people who are afraid to ask loved ones if they would consider giving up a kidney, and here was her family, fully prepared to do it, no questions asked. Samantha’s dad was the most insistent – he was determined to be the one to donate.
After testing, Samantha found out that she and her father were different blood groups. As a result, for a short time, the transplant wasn’t certain. Staying positive was difficult for her and her family, but they were rallied by the resulted of the tissue typing. These tests revealed that Samantha and her dad’s kidneys were a perfect match! While she would need to wash her blood in the days before the transplant, Samantha and her family were back to feeling elated.
When they were given a date for the operation, Samantha mentally ticked off the days leading up to it. In that time period, the effects of end-stage renal failure began to kick in. She was battling fatigue and constant exhaustion that wouldn’t ease with any amount of sleep. Forcing herself, Samantha kept exercising and working full time, trying to keep her life as normal as possible. She used the small amount of energy she had to stay upbeat. What helped her most was the constant love and support she got from her family and friends.
The day of the transplant came. Samantha walked to the operating table in her surgical gown, lied down, and looked up at the lights overhead as the general anesthetic took hold. When she came around, the first thing Samantha remembered seeing was the clock on the wall, and then the faces of the team in recovery, who were monitoring all the drips, drains, and lines attached to her. It was done.
Three days after the operation, Samantha started feeling “brighter”. Her family was waiting for her on the ward. It had been an excruciating day for her mother and sister since both Samantha and her father went under the knife at the same time. Obviously, Samantha’s first question was “How’s Dad?” While his surgery took a little longer than expected, he was awake and in the next ward. Relief swept over Samantha. For the first time in a while, things seemed to be looking up.
Samantha and her family hoped that the kidney, who they named Billy, would start working immediately. The very next day, her blood tests showed it was working great, filtering the waste products from her blood and instructing her bone marrow to start making red blood cells.
Samantha was in the hospital for about a week, and by the third day, she was already feeling brighter. She lost the strange feeling that comes with kidney failure, like the insides of your body are trying to push outwards. It’s a pressure that drains your energy and clouds your thoughts. Thankfully, recovery was quick for Samantha; she zipped through her list of post-op “firsts”: first solo shower, first dog walk, first glass of wine. Eight weeks after the operation, she was jogging and back to work by week 12. Her energy returned. She wasn’t exhausted by lunchtime, her skin and eyes got brighter. Despite her array of drugs to prevent her immune system from attacking her kidney, Samantha felt normal for the first time in a while. The side effects could be difficult to manage, but she would need immunosuppressants for as long as the transplant lasts. The best part is that her dad was back to his old self. Back to work and back to yelling at the TV when his favorite team is playing.
The Real Hero
Whenever anyone tells Samantha how brave she is, her only response is that she isn’t the brave one, her dad is. He’s the real hero. When asked about the whole story, Samantha’s father, Barry, said he knew it needed to be him when his daughter found out she needed a new kidney. Finding out your child has a disease that cannot be cured is a nightmare for any parent. From the moment the family found out Samantha would need a transplant, Barry knew it needed to be him. He saw it as his job as a father to look after her. Aside from that, he felt like it was his right, not a duty or an obligation. In addition, Barry didn’t want Samantha’s mother, husband, or sister to go through the operation.
Barry went to a lot of doctor’s appointments prior to the surgery. The first six appointments were to assess if he was generally healthy enough to donate while the others were more technical. He had his heart monitored, tests to check his kidney function, several scans to see which kidney was better to take and lots of blood tests too.
The physical testing wasn’t the hardest part at all. In fact, Barry said the emotional process of the whole thing was the hardest part. He and Samantha had a compulsory meeting with the Human Tissue Authority. They were the regulator that ensures organs and other human tissue are removed for the right reasons. Discussing the reasons Barry wanted to donate was easy enough, but the hardest part was when he and Samantha were brought into the room together and Samantha was asked how she’d feel if Barry passed away during the operation. Barry said that seeing her so concerned and upset made him very sad. He didn’t want her to think or feel as if it was her fault if anything bad would happen to him.
In the months leading up to the surgery, Barry turned 60 years old and would celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary. However, he was in no mood to celebrate, his mind was completely consumed by getting the operation done and it being successful.
Of course, family and friends made things easier. Barry kept himself busy with work and he continued his hobby of salsa dancing as usual. In fact, he went out a little more than usual. His friends even took him out for a “goodbye kidney” party.
Going Into Surgery
The operation came around quickly. The doctors gave Barry a lot of confidence that he would be okay. The transplant team was incredible. While the keyhole surgery took a bit longer than was expected, when Barry woke up in recovery, he was flooded with relief. His part was over.
Barry didn’t see Samantha until the next day when he forced himself to hobble over to her bed. While she looked a little worse for wear, her blood tests were good. He couldn’t help but be glad that his efforts weren’t for nothing. He wanted to see that she was okay.
Barry said that the recovery took a little longer than he thought it would. It felt like a herd of buffalo had trampled his insides. In order to remove a kidney, your stomach is blown up with gas to allow the surgeons to maneuver their instruments more easily. However, this stretches your skin and muscles and leaves you rather uncomfortable for a couple of weeks afterward. It took about four months for him to feel normal again, even though he went back to work part-time after eight weeks. He forced himself to walk every day, so it wasn’t long before he went back to salsa.
Barry felt honored to have been able to transform his daughter’s life. Living organ donation isn’t for the faint-hearted. But, if you’re able to do it and are healthy enough, do it. It’s worth it, especially once you see the person doing so well after surgery. Barry said he loved seeing Samantha doing well, with color in her cheeks and a sparkle in her eyes again.
To this day, Barry still gets emotional about it, and he said it will never go away. People tell him that he’s a hero, but he just smiles and doesn’t believe that to be the case. He knows he’s been able to give Samantha a second chance at life. He feels good about it, but he did it because he wanted his daughter to be healthy, not for any other reason.
Six Months Later
Six months later, Barry still has no regrets. His life is now complete. He doesn’t feel as if he has anything to prove. He’s said that part of him feels privileged he was able to donate his kidney. Not everyone has the opportunity to transform someone else’s life.