Pauline Young says she doesn’t want to be made a hero for giving one of her organs to her husband Peter Young whose kidneys were steadily failing over the last few years.
Her husband of 50 years had reached a dangerously low point with his kidney function down to three percent. The Howick Local Board member for Botany had only two options. He could either go in for dialysis twice a week for the rest of his life or opt for a kidney transplant. The latter option involved either a kidney donation by a loved one, getting a very expensive kidney transplant overseas or being on the waitlist for a cadaver kidney which could be years of stressful waiting, considering his age. Funnily, it was a heated argument that sealed the deal at the most unexpected moment.
“We were both on the edge and arguing about something,” says the 75-year-old describing the moment when his wife surprised him with her decision of donating him one of her kidneys.
“The stress levels were high and then suddenly in the midst of the argument she said, ‘I’ll give you my kidney’ as we were driving to see the renal doctor. I couldn’t believe it, so I asked her if she was sure she wanted to do it.
“She said she was certain and even told the doctor about it. After which we were sent to a psychologist to check if she was emotionally and psychologically fit to donate her kidney to me,” he says. There was a comprehensive screening process to go through to see if her kidney was the right fit for him.
“There were scans, x-rays, blood tests to find out if we were the right match. It’s a long process.” In the month of March which is devoted to Kidney Health, Peter says that 40 years of being a vegetarian and being a volunteer at the Buddhist Temple worked well in his wife’s favour. She was considered fit to make the donation.
When a 71-year-old Pauline confided to her close friends about going through the transplant surgery, her friends were genuinely worried for her. They tried to gently caution her saying she was putting her own health at risk to save her husband.
There is always a risk involved in any surgery. Donating a kidney to a loved one is scary idea. So many factors come into play. Being a Buddhist at heart, Pauline didn’t want to make a big deal of it. “I just did it for selfish reasons,” she says, making light of it. “I gave you my kidney so that I don’t have to drive you twice a week to the hospital for dialysis and then wait till you finish. This way I can go to the Buddhist temple and continue with my service,” she told her husband.
Exactly one year after the kidney transplant, Peter says that due to good post-operative care and being treated by very skilled and good-hearted doctors, he is out of the woods. He feels young again!
The major surgery didn’t stop founder of the Botany and Flat Bush Ethic Association from continuing his community work two months after the surgery. Talking about their recovery he says the very next day after the kidney transplant, his wife walked up to his hospital bed to find out how he was doing. “She is a strong woman,” he says full of admiration. “Pauline does not want any thank you. She is like a lot of Buddhist monks who donate their kidney without even wanting to find out who they donated it to.
“They don’t want any acknowledgement for it,” he says of the altruistic gesture which is considered highly rewarding. “Even our renal doctor said that more people need to be aware that a person can easily function with one kidney if it is a healthy one.”
Peter attributes his recovery to the fact that he kept healthy with plenty of exercise and acupuncture treatment prior to the major surgery. He is also grateful to New Zealand’s health system that allowed him to have a free kidney transplant under very good care.
“We have a very good health system, and I am so thankful for that,” he says. The couple recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary and Pauline’s birthday with flowers and cake.
It was also a celebration of the fact that they had both survived major surgery with Pauline giving Peter a gift of life as a true act of love. But of course, she won’t hear of it!