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The Gift of Life

Growing numbers of people are choosing to risk hours of surgery to give strangers a new lease of life
"It seemed like the right thing to do, a no brainer"
by Diana Prince
Evening Herald - 13/07/2012

HELEN will never meet the person whose life she changed by donating a kidney. All she knows is the transplant was successful.
Helen Tworkowski, aged 55, of Tavistock, said undergoing major surgery to help a stranger was a "no brainer". She is one of a growing number of - 'altruistic' kidney donors — people who choose to give an organ while living to an unknown patient.
New figures released to The Herald show the number nationwide has quad-rupled in recent years —from 10 in 2007/08 to 39 in 2011/12.
Helen is the only person in the region to have the operation so far this year. She is currently recovering from the surgery which took place at the South West Transplant Centre, Derriford Hospital. Helen said: "People are dying because there aren't enough kidney donors. "I did this because I could. There are very few times in your life you have a chance to do something that will really make a difference.
"I'm in good health, I had two good kidneys, I have no dependents. "There was a risk, as with any operation, but I felt like it was worth taking. By taking that small risk you can help someone repair their lives, impact on them and their family's. It seemed like the right thing to do, a no brainer."
Helen is single and works as an in-spector for health and social care watch-dog the Care Quality Commission. She first became interested in altruistic donation three years ago when she heard about the amazing process on the radio. "I tried to get more information but failed and then life moved on," she said. "But about eight months ago I heard something more about it on the radio. I looked on line and found a number for the transplant centre at Derriford."
The first meeting was in November last year. Helen then went through four months of tests to check her fitness, kidney function and suitability as a donor. "I've lost count of the number of tests," she said. "At one point I stayed at the hospital for two days undergoing blood tests and back-to-back appointments.
"It's all about checking you're are well, both kidneys are working sufficiently. You also see a psychologist to make sure you aren't doing it for the wrong reasons. "Throughout the process you are given every opportunity to back out." But Helen said she did not have any second thoughts.
The surgery took place in recent months. The Herald cannot print the date to protect the recipient. "The operation was a relief after all the preparation," said Helen. "It took a few hours. I came around on the ward and had little pain or discomfort." After two days in hospital, Helen was discharged to recover at home. The only sign of the operation is a four-inch scar on her stomach.
Helen she is returning to "normal" health and plans to go back to work on Monday. She said: "It's like giving blood: people need it and I could give it. If I was in that position, I hope to God someone would do it for me.