The precious gift of time… Anna Maharaj shares her kidney transplant journey

Anna Maharaj

I think about my daughter, my husband, my donor and the borrowed time I have been so generously given from my donor. This gift of life has given me time to see my daughter grow into a teenager, to travel the world, to create a beautiful home and to fulfill my passion for teaching.

After being diagnosed with SLE (also known as lupus), the battle to save my own kidneys and my life meant endless rounds of chemotherapy, heavy immunosuppression, IV steroids, hospital admissions and the care of many dedicated medical professionals.

After being so unwell for most of my teenage years I was lucky enough to have a few years in remission. At this time I was able to attend the University of Waikato to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher.

However shortly after my 21st birthday my health declined significantly, I went into end stage renal failure and I was admitted into ICU requiring a lifesaving hemodialysis. There aren’t any words to accurately describe the fear of the situation or the emotions I felt when my own kidneys died; you do experience grief and a feeling of loss.

I was in ward 24 at Waikato Hospital for almost two years leading up to my transplant, being too sick to leave hospital with endless infections, operations, renal failure, no energy, short of breath and requiring ongoing blood transfusions. I want to acknowledge the staff at the Waikato Home Dialysis Unit, as their training and support allowed me a six month period being on dialysis at home; especially Nicky and Mark and the many other nurses who encouraged me to get home with a machine and gain some independence.

During this time I had incredible friends who would visit and bring me chocolate brownies. My appetite was poor back then and I needed a feeding tube. However, I could tolerate brownies!

I was one of the first patients to be put on the transplant waiting list from Waikato hospital in 2001. Dr Ian Dittmer, Dr Helen Pilmore, Dr Maggie Fisher, Dr Kim Wong and Dr Peter Sizeland championed my cause and did everything to keep me alive on dialysis so I would be a successful transplant candidate. I am forever grateful to them, because in 2002 I received my kidney from a deceased donor at Auckland hospital.

My family and I celebrate my transplant anniversary every year, it is bitter sweet.

I think about my daughter, my husband, my donor and the borrowed time I have been so generously given by my donor. This gift of life has allowed me to see my daughter grow into a teenager, to travel the world, to create a beautiful home and to fulfill my passion for teaching.

I am under the wonderful care of Middlemore Hospital Renal Transplant Team and have been for the past thirteen years. I know how lucky I am to have them all.

As a transplant recipient I am focused on making my life count and honoring my donor and those who have changed my life and the lives of so many individuals fortunate enough to receive transplants. Life is truly precious.

My second chance has meant I have married the most incredible, handsome, loving man who is by my side through all the ups and downs of my health journey. The other very important person is our daughter. Without my donated kidney I wouldn’t have been around to experience the absolute delight of loving a child and being such a proud Mum. I am so blessed.

I have also fulfilled my passion for teaching, working with incredible students and staff. To say this is rewarding is an understatement, teaching children has given me purpose and the sincerity of the profession never ceases to amaze me. I am continuously inspired to reflect on my own practice as a teacher, without my transplant this wouldn’t have been possible.

My family and I attend the annual Service of Thanksgiving every year in recognition of those who have given the gift of life to others. It’s a very emotional service, my daughter and I light a candle to acknowledge and remember the gift, but also the loss my donor family reflects, on the day their loved one passed away.

Living would not have been possible without the selfless act of organ donation. Through organ donation we celebrate new life and new beginnings. It’s a joyful thing to live, however without the gift of life, the many health professionals, transplant coordinators and others involved at such a fragile time, for those living with a transplant or awaiting a transplant, the path back to health would be much more difficult, if not impossible.

Thank you for taking the time to read my transplant story. I recently celebrated 20 years since my transplant; this was a profound moment for me, a time to reflect back on my journey, through all the highs and lows. I can honestly say I will never waste a single moment of my life. Nobody knows what the future will bring, however without organ donation; I wouldn’t be here to share my story.

Anna Mahara