Wigan woman Sam is proof organ donation saves lives

Sam Thorpe - healthy and happy
Sam Thorpe - healthy and happy

A Wigan woman whose life was saved by a double transplant has thrown her weight behind a national campaign to raise awareness of organ donation.

Sam Thorpe was given between two and six years to live when both of her kidneys failed.

Sam recovering in hospital after her double transplant operation

Sam recovering in hospital after her double transplant operation

Problems had started when she was diagnosed with Type One diabetes aged just 19.

Within two decades her body had started to fail her, both kidneys had shut down and her only option of survival was to receive two new organs.

Happily the Standish 42-year-old is now enjoying a new lease of life after a successful op four years ago.

To mark Organ Donation Week, Sam - along with other transplant survivors and loved ones of those who didn’t make it - will be telling their stories to help promote awareness of the importance of donating.

“I had a combined kidney and pancreas transplant in 2015,” said Sam. “After living with diabetes for about 20 years, it affected everything.

“It affected my eyes first, when I was having treatment for that I found out that both of my kidneys were already failing.

“I was on haemodialysis, which cleans and filters your blood. That was four hours a day every other day.

“It’s when you’re on that that you realise how much your kidneys do for you. I was constantly tired, I couldn’t eat, it makes you anaemic and gives you high blood pressure.

“I started doing the dialysis at home, I was quite stubborn. I didn’t want it to define me, I wanted to maintain my independence. But even then it’s every other day, you can’t go on holiday, you can’t plan to go away.”

Despite the treatment, Sam’s body continued to deteriorate.

Doctors discussed the option of having a kidney and pancreas transplant, a procedure which would give her the best chance of survival.

However around a year into her dialysis treatment, Sam was given the terrifying news that her heart was also beginning fail.

She had a problem with her left ventricle meaning that it was not beating as strong as it should.

“My body was getting weaker,” she added. “That was obviously an issue for having a transplant.

“They said I had between two to six years to live. It was devastating news to deal with. I look back now and wonder how I coped with it.

“Something inside told me I would be alright, that I would get better. I thought I was too young to die.

“It was like they were talking about someone else, like they had made a mistake.”

Just before Christmas in 2014, Sam was put on the transplant list.

It would be five months before she received the life-changing call.

“I cried with relief when they said they had organs for me,” she said. “When you get put on the list you are told you could get a call at any moment.”

Despite getting the call at 5.30am, it was only 4pm when she finally went in for the surgery at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

She added: “I was in surgery for around 11 hours and I spent 16 days in hospital, a week of which was recovering in intensive care.

“Both of the organs worked, the kidney took a couple of days to wake up but they have both worked perfectly since.

“It was four and a half years ago. It has saved my life. My health is amazing now compared to what it was, there have been no issues with it.

“I’m not diabetic anymore. There are no restrictions on my diet, but I am careful anyway, I respect what I have been given.”

After being given a new chance at life, Sam was finally able to do all of the things that she had always wanted.

In February 2017, she married partner Dan at a ceremony in Knutsford before heading off to New York and Barbados on honeymoon.

To mark two years since the transplant, in 2017 Sam did a fund-raising skydive for charity Kidneys for Life.

On top of this, Sam returned to her job in communications for Kier and was invited to join Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust’s organ donation committee.

“There can never be enough awareness surrounding organ donation,” she said. “On the whole, people’s reaction to it is positive.

“I think if you are in the unfortunate situation like me and needed an organ, I don’t think anyone would turn that down because everyone wants to live.

“If you are willing to accept an organ you have to be willing to donate too. You don’t know what’s around the corner.

“Life is precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

Last year, almost 200 people in Greater Manchester were given a new chance through organ donation, but hundreds more await for their life-saving call.

Next year, the law around organ donation is changing in England. From spring 2020, all adults in England will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate or are in one of the excluded groups.

In the lead up to the change in law, NHS Blood and Transplant is urging families across England to talk about their organ donation decision, with the campaign message ‘Pass it on’.

Even after the law has changed, families will continue to be approached before organ donation goes ahead.

Knowing what their relative wanted, helps families support their decision at a difficult time.

A recent survey of adults in England for NHS Blood and Transplant found that while 84 per cent agreed it was important to let those closest to them know their views on organ donation, only 40 per cent had shared their organ donation decision with their family or partner.

More and more families in Wigan and Greater Manchester are saying yes to organ donation but there is still an urgent shortage of donors.

NHS Blood and Transplant is asking people to tell their families they want to donate to help make sure more lives are saved.

Anthony Clarkson, Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant said: “We need more people to talk about organ donation to increase the number of lifesaving transplants.

“Even after the law around organ donation changes next year, families will still be approached before organ donation goes ahead. So it remains so important to talk to your families about your views.

“Register your organ donation decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and tell your family the choice you have made.

“If the time comes, we know families find the organ donation conversation with nurses or medical teams much easier if they already know what their relative wanted.”

To register as a donor visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk and share your decision with your family.