Alan Smith with granddaughter Mackenzie Dowdle, 3. Alan had a kidney transplant five years ago and loves every minute with his grandkids.
Alan Smith with granddaughter Mackenzie Dowdle, 3. Alan had a kidney transplant five years ago and loves every minute with his grandkids. Brenda Strong

New kidney gives proud grandad a shot at a longer life

AT ONLY 21 years of age, Alan Smith was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease.

It didn't come as a huge surprise; Alan knew he had inherited the genetic condition.

"I was born with it, I knew I had it," he said. "Basically if you're going to get kidney disease, this is the best one."

Polycystic kidney disease belongs to a group of diseases known as cystic kidney disease. It is characterised by the growth of abnormal blisters of fluid in the kidneys.

There is no cure but medical treatment can manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Alan was able to manage his condition until he turned 50, when he started dialysis.

"Over the years you just get sicker and sicker," he said. "You don't realise how sick you are until someone tells you."

His time on dialysis is not something Alan likes to recall. He started off travelling to the Rockhampton dialysis unit three times a week.

Eventually he had a machine installed in his room so he could undergo treatment at home.

It's now been five years since he received the life-changing news - he had a new kidney.

He remembers it like it was yesterday.

"Stunned, I think I was," he said. "It was about midnight. I was told to sleep with the phone next to me, and I was on the (dialysis) machine when the call came through."

At that stage Alan had zero per cent kidney function.

"The machine was keeping me alive," he said. 

Alan was told to get on the first plane out of Gladstone. He arrived in Brisbane the next morning and after being on the waiting list for two and a half years, he was on the operating table by lunchtime.

All he knew was the organ that saved his life had come from a female.

After 10 days in hospital, Alan faced eight weeks of tests and follow-up appointments before he could return home to Gladstone.

These days his kidney function is back to normal and he only has to travel to Rockhampton for regular check-ups every three months.

"I came through pretty well. I was very lucky," he said. "The doctor can't get over how well I'm doing.

"I still have my old kidneys in there; it's not a cure, but part of a process."

When asked if life was back to normal now, the 57-year-old said he didn't know what normal was.

Alan's biggest fear now is that his that body will one day reject the new organ.

"To stop that we take medication to decrease our immune system, and that's the killer," he said.

"Since the transplant, skin cancer has come right out of the woodworks. I catch anything that is going the rounds.

"I'm in hospital quite regularly."

But Alan has nothing but praise for Queensland Health.

"We have an absolute incredible hospital system here," he said. "When you're involved like I am, you don't really know how good we've got it.

"You cannot ask for better people (hospital staff). They don't get the credit they deserve."

And despite regular stays in hospital, Alan was able to keep a full-time job as a financial planner until Easter this year, when he was made redundant.

"I'm now unemployed and looking for work," he said.

We have an absolute incredible hospital system here. When you're involved like I am, you don't really know how good we've got it.

As he lovingly embraced his three-year-old grandchild Mackenzie, Alan said after everything he had been through, the unsung heroes were his family.

"They are the reason to keep going, I tell ya."

Alan said he was forever thankful to his organ donor and their family, because without them he might not be here to tell his story.

Next weekend he will speak at an annual thanksgiving service in Rockhampton to recognise organ and tissue donors and their families.

He is now part of a local organ transplant support group.

Anybody who would like to take part should contact Alan direct on 0419 021 929.

About kidney disease:

  • About 1600 people are on Australian organ transplant waiting lists.
  • In 2012, 354 organ donors gave 1052 Australians a new chance in life.
  • The average Australian donor rate was 15.6 donors per million people.
  • The number of organ donors and transplant recipients in 2012 was the highest since national records began.

Source: donatelife.gov.au



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