When Lisa McGee blows out the candles on her 50th birthday cake this week, she will be thinking of the two strangers who have given her the greatest gifts – two kidneys.
The mum of one, who has had two transplants in the last nine years, has been planning a host of celebrations to mark the milestone she feared she might not live to see.
Lisa received her second kidney five months ago and said she will be forever grateful to the living donors who gave her a second and third chance at life.
She said: “This birthday means more to me than all those who have gone before. I’m turning 50 and I genuinely don’t remember feeling this good in 15 years.
“How lucky am I? I think of both donors as total heroes.
“Forget Batman, Iron Man and Superman – they are my modern-day superheroes.
“I don’t know where I would be without the kindness of two people I have never met. They have given me a future.”
Lisa, from the Border town of Peebles, had to have her first transplanted organ removed three years ago after it went toxic.
She was given a life-changing diagnosis in 2009 after going to her GP to get painful earache checked.
Told her blood pressure was dangerously high, she was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with kidney failure.
Lisa, who was 36 at the time, was put on hemodialysis three times a week.
She was listed for transplant in 2010 and her sister Roseann put herself forward to be tested as a potential donor, alongside other family members.
But with tests showing the sisters were not compatible, they entered a paired donation scheme, with both undergoing surgery in October 2013. Lisa would receive a kidney from an altruistic donor.
The former barista, who is mum to Michael, 29, said: “My big sister, like my two donors, is my hero.
“She came forward to donate but she wasn’t a match.
“Despite this, she signed up to the kidney donation exchange to increase my chances of finding an organ.
“When they found me a kidney, Roseann donated one of her healthy organs to a stranger.
“Sisterly love doesn’t get much stronger than that.”
Initially things looked positive but, 10 days after the transplant, she was being constantly sick and suffered a massive hernia and had to have emergency surgery.
After 40 days in Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary and a year of recovery, Lisa started to get her life back.
She had met a new partner, was able to enjoy holidays and even returned to work at Costa in February 2015 with her kidney function stable.
But, by March 2018, Lisa noticed she was more tired and a lot more nauseous.
She said: “My GP popped into where I was working and I mentioned how I was feeling. He told me to come in for bloods.
“I was told things didn’t look bad but, two months later, my kidney was failing and, by August of that year, I couldn’t get out of bed.
“I’d started to get used to my new life and it was all taken away within months.”
Lisa was given blood transfusions to get her through Christmas, with the kidney removed the following month and dialysis starting straight after surgery.
A year later, Lisa was put back on the transplant waiting list. In December 2021, she was told a potential kidney donor had been found.
Lisa, who has found love with bike mechanic John Hewat, 55, said: “I was in the hospital for dialysis and my renal consultant told me they needed to take bloods as they thought they had a suitable kidney for me.
“The next day I got the news it was a match. I couldn’t believe it as I was told it could be 10 years before a match was found due to my rare blood and tissue types and my antibodies.
“My transplant coordinator Dr Lorna Henderson and surgeon Lorna Marson asked me if I wanted to have it as there were risks but it could be the last chance I would get.
“I told them to go for it. I phoned my mum and we all started crying.
“After surgery, I was home within a week. And since then it’s been amazing. I feel enormous gratitude and always will.”
That included raising £4000 for the Kidney Patient Associations by shaving off all her hair.
Sadly, her dad Vincent passed away from a heart attack in March, aged 77.
She said: “When I was clearing out his house, I found a 50th birthday card he had written to me before he passed.
- Living kidney donation plays a vital role in increasing donation and transplantation rates in Scotland, with a kidney from a living donor generally offering the best outcomes for patients in need of a transplant.
- There are two routes to living kidney donation – directed donation, where a friend, relative or partner donates to a loved one, or non-directed altruistic donation, where a person donates to a stranger.
- Since 2009, more than 100 people in Scotland have made the decision to donate one of their kidneys altruistically.
- Through raising awareness that living donation is an option, the hope is that more patients living with kidney failure can avoid or reduce the time they have to spend on dialysis and have a better quality of life.
To find out more about living donation, visit livingdonationscotland.org.
“On my special day, as well as giving thanks to my donors, I’ll be remembering my dad.
“I’ve given myself a year to fully recover and then I’m looking forward to enjoying life again, to being able to work and plan trips away.
“Turning 50 is a special occasion for everyone but for me it is so much more. I could not have gotten through it without my superwoman mum Sylvia, who has been caring for me since I was first diagnosed, and my sister de ella.
“I will never take what I’ve been given, or the life I now have, for granted.”
Professor Marson, who conducted Lisa’s transplants, said: “All organ donation is an extraordinary gift. The particular generosity of altruistic donors gives people like Lisa a second chance that she might not have had.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.