Kay Knowles who many of you may know passed away in September 2008 just after her 69th birthday. Kay was the 1,000th transplant patient here at the MRI in March 1988. We would like to thank Peter, her husband who was recently looking through Kay’s papers and sent us this memoir which Kay had written in 1993 about her experience as a dialysis & transplant patient and reflecting on the sacrifice made by the person who donated their kidney.
“This week I’ve been watching the Coronation again. Forty years! Then I was a thirteen year old school girl, full of the optimism of the age and my own youthful expectations. Forty years on, I have a comfortable domestic existence as wife, mother of two daughters and doting grandma to our new grandson.
“So what has this to do with sacrifice? Perhaps I had to leave school prematurely to help the family finances? No, I went on to College and became a teacher. Did I lose the love of my life to my best friend? Not so, I met Peter shortly after leaving college and we celebrate our thirty first wedding anniversary this year. Well, maybe I had to give up a glowing career for the sake of the family? Hardly! I was only too happy to exchange teaching for the joy of bringing up my own family.
“To my mind, a real sacrifice requires at least some element of regret, if not real pain, either physical or emotional, on the part of the person concerned. The fact that I am here now, able to enjoy my life and family and the nostalgia of that occasion forty years ago, owes very little to any sacrifice on my part.
“Having said that, not all my life has been untroubled serenity. For forty years I regarded myself as a physically able person, seldom afflicted by any but the most trivial illnesses. Then I was discovered to be suffering from a hereditary and progressive kidney disease. My complacency was somewhat shaken, but life continued much as before. The disease took its inevitable course, until I reached the stage I had secretly feared – I required renal dialysis. Even here I was lucky; the reality was much less terrifying than I had imagined, and I was only on dialysis for a few weeks before I received the most momentous telephone call of my life.
“This is where sacrifice enters the story, and even now I cannot claim it for my own. I am here now as a testament to the skill of the medical profession and the sacrifice of one anonymous person. That telephone call was to tell me, in the words of the night-sister, “We have a kidney for you.”
“I can now say that in the euphoria of the next hours, the excitement of a new life opening, the apprehension of the operation to be undergone, you never quite forget that it has only happened for you because someone else has had to make the greatest sacrifice – to give up life.
“I know very little about the donor of the kidney. She was a woman younger than me, but by her sacrifice and that of her family, at least two people have been given the chance of life.
“It is truly wonderful that medical science can now transform the lives of very sick patients by replacing diseased and failing organs with healthy ones, but it should never be forgotten that numberless sacrifices have been made for this to be possible. I hope I remember often enough, but life is so…interesting!”
Kay Knowles (written in 1993).