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One Persons Tragedy Gave Chris the Gift of a New Life

Not a day goes by when I don't thank my donor
"I'd always been fit and active, but I couldn't even lift a box of the fluid. My friends came to see me and they thought I was dying, I was so poorly."
by Helen Pearse

Evening Herald - 12/07/2006

LAST year Chris Bennatto's life com-pletely changed. After decades of living with a malfunc-tioning kidney, and five years of being on and off dialysis, in April 2005 Chris had a kidney transplant. And he hasn't looKed back since.
Today, during National Transplant Week, Chris explains what he has gone through, and how he is thankful every single day to the person who donated his kidney.
The 68-year-old's operation was one of 51 kidney transplants to be carried out at Derriford Hospital last year. Chris, from Maple Grove in Plympton, was first diagnosed with kidney problems in the early Sixties when he worked for the Metropolitan Police in London and had to undergo a medical examination.
Further health checks carried out at a hos¬pital eventually revealed one of Chris' kidneys was not working properly — even though he was not displaying any symptoms nor suffering any pain.
He was medically discharged from the police and moved back to Plymouth, where he was issued with a green card to show he was disabled. This proved frustrating for Chris, resulting in him struggling to find work, even though he felt physically fit.
A follow-up check at Freedom Fields Hospital in 1974 found cysts on the kidney which were restricting its function, and Chris was told to go for check-ups every six months. It was during this tims that he got a job with British Gas, lasting nearly 20 years until he took redundancy in 1992.
Chris, who is married to Catherine, was then diagnosed with diabetes, which he controlled with his diet, and over the next nine years he had no problems with his health, until at the age of 64 doctors found high levels of impurities in his blood which were making him poorly.
In 2001 he was told he would need a kidney transplant, but a previous heart problem meant they were reluctant to operate even if one became available.
Instead, doctors decided to try Chris on CAPD — continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis — for seven months. This involved Chris having dialysis to remove waste products through his stomach, and although it could be done at home, it had to be carried out four times a day for half an hour each time.
Chris said: "I'd always been fit and active, but I couldn't even lift a box of the fluid. My friends came to see me and they thought I was dying, I was so poorly."
After seven months of CAPD doctors said Chris' kidney had sufficient function for him to stop the treatment, and the father of two went for two years without dialysis.
But Chris' luck was soon to run out, and in 2003 he was put on haemodialysis to cleanse his blood, during which he had to be hooked up to a machine at Derriford's renal unit for four hours, three times a week.
An angiogram in 2003 found the heart problem had gone, and following an operation to remove a gallstone Chris was put on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in September 2004. Just seven months later, on April 27, 2005, Chris was on the operating table, about to have his life transformed.
Someone who carried a donor card had died, and one of their kidneys went to Chris. He said: "It was a five-hour operation and I was out of hospital after a week.
"It was painful, but the joy of knowing that you are the recipient of a new life takes away any pain. "It's the one time you would really like to see that person and give them a really big hug. I want to write a letter to the person's family but I don't know what to say."
Since April last year, Chris' life has completely changed — and the biggest difference is not having to spend endless hours hooked up to a machine at the hospital. He said: "It's changed my life immensely: the simple fact that I don't have to attend the hospital for four hours three times a week, and the freedom of movement and mobility.
"It's just lifted a tonne weight off my back and there's not a day that goes by when I don't think of the donor."
Although Chris is on a cocktail of drugs to stop his body rejecting the new kidney, and also insulin for his diabetes, he says he cannot believe how his life has been turned around as a result of the transplant. He added: "The greatest release there is is absenting yourself from that renal ward and being able to fulfil your bodily functions with¬out being on a machine.

"My life is my own again."