Twin sisters’ lives saved by double miracle ops

Elizabeth Costello (right) and her sister Kathleen McNulty
Elizabeth Costello (right) and her sister Kathleen McNulty

The founder of a borough charity is backing a national organ donation campaign after both she and her identical twin sister underwent life-saving kidney transplants.

Elizabeth Costello, director of Leigh Film Society, is urging people to talk to their families about signing the donor register to mark Organ Donation Week.

The 56-year-old mum-of-two found out she had renal failure in 2007 after successfully battling Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer which typically attacks the body’s white blood cells.

After finishing her chemotherapy treatment; Elizabeth, and her identical twin sister Kathleen McNulty, found out that they both had kidney disease meaning they would need to be on dialysis and would need a transplant.

“We spent five years on renal dialysis,” she said. “It’s really hard to go through. It’s three or four days a week for four or five hours at a time being attached to a machine.

“You are being kept alive by a machine. It’s tough but you try to stay positive. I had a young family at the time. I was trying to stay positive for them. Even though you go to dark places sometimes you can’t stay there, you have to stay focused on living even if that quality of life isn’t brilliant.”

Incredibly, despite being given kidneys from different donors - Elizabeth from a stranger on the organ donor register and Kathleen from one of their brothers - the twins both underwent their transplants in 2012.

The former NHS worker said that the procedure not only saved her life, but inspired her to give something back to her local community.

After recovering from the operation she decided to launch Leigh Film Society as a way of combating social isolation and helping people through cinema therapy.

“I wanted to give something back,” she said. “To make my donor proud. I had been given a second chance and wanted to make it count.

“I hope if they knew they would be proud of my achievements since I have been given another chance.

“The outcome of what has happened since my transplant is benefiting the community and that has all come from organ donation - because one family said yes.”

Since launching, Leigh Film Society has gone from strength to strength, winning national awards.

As a reward for her efforts, she was given the British Empire Medal by the Queen for her outstanding civil contribution.

Elizabeth built on her belief in cinema therapy to bring film to members of the local community.

“Cinema is two hours of escapism,” she added. “It takes you away to another place in your thoughts.

“No matter how your life is, if it’s full of challenges, you can have two hours away from it.

“That’s why I started the society, for the therapeutic benefit it brings to people’s lives.

“Since setting it up a year after my transplant, we have stayed true to our beliefs in fighting social isolation and to use film to support the community. It wouldn’t have existed without organ donation.”

Elizabeth believes that getting people to sign the register is only a small part of the battle when it comes to organ donation awareness.

“Just signing the register is not enough,” she said. “When you die and the medical team speak to your family, it’s ultimately their decision whether your organs are given or not.

“It’s a wonderful thing to sign the register but what really needs to happen is that conversation with your family.

“It’s a brave thing to do to say yes to donating a loved one’s organs. You can’t put people down for saying no, they have their own thought but it’s so important that you talk about it.”

To sign the register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk