Ask father-of-one Tom Barker about his life before his kidney and pancreas transplant just a few weeks ago and he describes a vicious circle of dialysis, feeling ill after dialysis, being unable to plan holidays and not having the energy to play with his young daughter.
Post-transplant and Tom says: “I’m a different person. All the money in the world couldn’t have given me my life back – but an organ donor has.”
Tom, aged 31, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 13 and although the risks of renal disease were mentioned it didn’t really hit home until his health started to get much worse.
“I struggled to accept my diagnosis but when I developed renal failure and had to go on to dialysis that was something else,” he explained.
“I was really unwell on dialysis, you don’t know how it will affect you, and I had no quality of life. I was on dialysis three and sometimes four times a week and on the days in between I was really ill; it didn’t suit me at all.
“It meant I couldn’t plan anything, I couldn’t think of going on holiday and I couldn’t socialise properly at all.”
Tom has spent time in eight or nine different hospitals over the years. He ended up in ITU in Worcester after being taken ill while he was visiting the city and his mother Teresa Richards, who is a Senior Clinical Support Worker within Infection Control at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, said there had been times when she wondered if he would pull through.
“To see him so ill has been really hard for the rest of his family,” she said. “You want to protect your children and make everything Ok for them for it’s out of your hands.”
There were times that Tom was too ill to be considered for surgery, even if a donor had been found, and other times when he would be hoping it was his turn and another patient was more suitable. But he finally got the call that would change his life and he underwent surgery at Churchill Hospital, Oxford on 11 July this year.
“I was offered a kidney and pancreas transplant being a type 1 diabetic and I can honestly say it has totally changed my life,” said Tom. “I look completely different – I was also grey before and had fluid retention because of my health problems. Now I can go out, I can make plans and there’s no feeling like it.
“I want to say to anyone considering organ donation that it is the most fantastic thing you can ever do for anyone. You could have given me millions of pounds while I was on dialysis but it couldn’t have made a difference. What I’ve had is priceless.”
Teresa added: “When you have a loved one who needs a transplant it affects so many other people too. I’ve spent so many nights in A&E because he’s been ill, or been at his bedside wondering what will happen. And his daughter has seen her daddy looking really poorly. The difference is huge.”
Tom’s daughter Evie, aged eight, said they’d recently been to Drayton Manor Park.
“We went on two rollercoasters – daddy as well – and it was great. We weren’t scared. I like to go shopping with him too.”
Tom said that he would be writing to his donor’s family to thank them and to explain how much the decision had meant.
“It’s important to me that they know how much I appreciate what has been done to help me and so many others. I am so grateful and so is my family. They’ve given my daughter her daddy back.”