Hundreds across Norfolk and East Anglia are awaiting a life-saving donation, as National Transplant Week begins
Almost 700 people in East Anglia are awaiting a life-saving transplant today – as hospitals across the region launch a campaign to boost awareness of organ donation.
Organisers hope National Transplant Week will help some of the 699 people on the transplant waiting list in East Anglia – around half of whom can expect to be successfully matched with a donor.
Those waiting for news include Melanie Parkinson, a staff nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, who began to suffer kidney problems following the birth of her second child, Holly, in 1987.
Doctors initially thought she had kidney stones but she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease the following year, an inherited condition which causes cysts to develop in the kidneys themselves.
'It's a hereditary disease, but no-one in my family has it,' she said. 'When I was first diagnosed I was told it was the kidney disease to have because there could sometimes be no effects until I was in my 80s. But here I am in my 40s needing dialysis three times a week.'
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Ms Parkinson's condition worsened about three years ago when she started to feel tired and suffer pain in her legs. She went to her GP suspecting she had anaemia but ended up in hospital as an in-patient.
'I was being sick and couldn't keep water down,' she said. 'I lost a lot of weight.'
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The 45-year-old, from East Winch, needs dialysis three times a week to cleanse her blood of toxins. Each session lasts at least three and a half hours and to pass the time she usually reads, watches television or just catches up on sleep.
'If I go away, I need to arrange to have dialysis at another unit,' she said.
Ms Parkinson has had to reduce her hours at work and now works 33 hours a week. She is also more prone to viruses because of her condition and sometimes misses work.
She has been on the transplant waiting list for just over two and a half years and could get the call at any minute to say a kidney has been found for her.
'You feel like your life is constantly on hold, waiting for that call to come,' she said.
'I can't say I'm looking forward to it and, being a nurse, I know what the complications can be. But I know I need it.
'It is hard to get your head around – somebody has to die to give you the chance of a normal life. I try not to think about it too much.'
Ms Parkinson's older sister, Denise, could be a good match, but doctors have told her to lose weight before the necessary tests can be carried out.
'She has another two stone to lose, but in six months' time it could be the answer,' she said.
Her daughter, Holly, now 24, has also inherited the disease and her condition is being monitored carefully.
In 2011/12, there were 355 transplants performed in East Anglia, while 34 people who were awaiting a transplant died. Around 80 people in Norfolk are currently on the waiting list.
'We know that if we could get more people signing up for the register and people's families agreeing we could close this gap between people waiting and people getting transplants,' said Marentia Teasdale, a specialist transplant nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
'It's fantastic to sign up, but please discuss your wishes with your relatives and your loved ones.'
Retired fashion retailer Margaret Bright, 71, from Leverington, near Wisbech, told her husband John and their three children that she would like to donate her organs or tissue.
Mrs Bright died after suffering a heart attack, in hospital, in February 2010, after being admitted to the QEH for a hip replacement.
Her organs could not be offered for transplant because of drugs she had been prescribed whilst she was undergoing treatment. But they were used for medical research, while her corneas were transplanted.
Retired motor dealer Mr Bright, 74, said: 'It was a tremendous help to me and my children. Once we knew her corneas had restored the sight of a 55-year-old gentleman, it gave us all a lift.'
Mr Bright went on to become a member of the organ donor committee at the QEH, which helps to promote the procedure.
Seat belt laws, which came into force in the 1970s, have reduced the supply of organs available for transplant, because more people survive car crashes.
Organs which can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and stomach. Tissue including the corneas, heart valves, bone and tendons can also be donated.
A spokesman for the QEH said: 'Registering to become an organ donor is easy. Just log-on to www.organdonation.nhs.uk and follow the simple step-by-step instructions.
'Alternatively, ask for more information at your GP practice, local health centre or hospital. After registering, please make sure you tell your close family and friends, so that everyone is aware of your wishes.'