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Iím alive: thanks to my big brother

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Iím alive: thanks to my big brother thumbnailWilliam (right) with his brother Johnny who donated his kidney to save him from organ failure age 23.

A KILKEEL man donated his kidney to his younger brother so he could have his life back.

Johnny Spiers said he had no hesitation in offering one of his vital organs to brother William after he found out that his kidneys were failing at the age of 23.

The two brothers are set to share their story tonight (Tuesday) in a new BBC series 'Saved: At the Heart of the Health Service'.

William, who lives at Riverside Park, says he cannot thank his brother enough for the selfless act. He told The Outlook the surgery has "changed his life".

The problems started two years ago. William was working in London and when he returned to Kilkeel, he went to the doctors as his belly button was very sore and bleeding.

He found out that he had a cyst on his belly button and needed a small operation.

“Two weeks later when the doctor phoned me to say my blood results were back. He said there was a problem and I had to go right away to the hospital.

“I was in Belfast so I dropped everything and went straight to the hospital and that's when they told me that my kidney function was way down and I had kidney failure.

“When they scanned my kidneys they found they had shrivelled up and were nowhere near the size they should have been.

“Then they told me that I had Fabry's disease, which is an inherited disease, yet we knew no-one with it. That was why my kidneys were failing as that is a symptom of the disease."

Fabry's disease causes an enzyme deficiency in the body and the kidneys are usually the first organ affected.

William, a stonemason, said his whole family, including his five siblings, offered him a kidney.

“My family all decided to get tested to see if they were a match. And it was during blood tests that we found out that my brother Stephen also has Fabry's Disease."

William could not believe the support he received from his family and friends who all offered to help him.

“My kidneys were only functioning about 15 per cent, I think they should normally function at 50 to 60 per cent.

“When they went to scan them initially they wanted to do a biopsy but because they were so small it would have been too risky to take a sample.

“They started talking to me about dialysis and all. I had never heard of it so I thought it was medication and tablets. Then he started to show me the machines and that's when it hit me - I was pretty sick."

William said that throughout the next 12 months, he was faced difficulties with the dialysis.

“I had both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, which means that a tube was inserted into my abdomen.

“But because of different difficulties with my dialysis I had eight operations throughout 2015."

William, who is now 25, admits it "was tough".

“I was on dialysis for almost a year. That meant an early start at 6am and every other day I had to go to the City Hospital to the renal unit and spend four hours hooked up to the machine.

“It's definitely not the easiest of medical treatments. I had to change my diet, I wasn't allowed to eat certain meats and had to watch my protein and salt levels.

“I would be into clay pigeon shooting but I did not feel like going out of the house to do that when I was on dialysis. I was really just sitting about for a year," said William.

During William's time on dialysis, his brother Johnny was discovered to be a kidney match for him. William says that Johnny, who is 32, is definitely the "hard nut" of the family.

“Our first thought when we found out about William was, 'what can we do to get this young fella better?'" said Johnny.

“I really did not think much more than that and we went and got tested. It was just a natural instinct. I think everyone would do that for their siblings or a close relative.

“At the beginning there were a couple of us who were initially suitable but by the end it turned out I was the only one suitable.

“Then there were more tests and interviews to undertake. It took around a year before the transplant happened.

“By January 2015 it had all been sorted then it was just a matter of waiting for the operation," said Johnny.

The live kidney transplant took place on 3 February, 2015.

“We were both really nervous as neither of us had really been in hospital before all this and it is such a massive operation," said William.

“I'm normally bad enough going to the doctors for a blood test but at the same time with all the commotion around William, you kind of forgot what was going on," Johnny added.

“It wasn't until they were wheeling me down on the trolley that it dawned on me what was happening," said Johnny.

“We were also told beforehand that the kidney might not take or if it did it would take a few days to work," said William but Johnny said that he give his brother "a good one".

“The surgeon told us the kidney began to produce urine before they even stitched it up. That just put the icing on the cake for me, that it worked so well," Johnny said.

Johnny remained in hospital for two days following the operation and said that while he was "very sore", it was "not unbearable".

He says living with one kidney is not much different to having two.

“Your diet does have to change but that is dependent on the person. Throughout all the interviews prior to the operation, the doctors told me just to continue living the way I am and I would be fine. I just have to make sure I drink a lot of water to keep the kidney well hydrated to prevent stones," said Johnny.

William had to stay a little longer in hospital but was out, with his new kidney, a week after the transplant.

“As soon as I woke up I felt a whole lot better than I did from previous operations. Because my kidney functions were way down, I felt a change pretty much straight away, for instance I felt that I needed to go to the toilet," said William.

Since the operation, William's life has been returning to the way it was pre-2014 and even better, he says.

“I got engaged just under four months after the transplant and have set a date to marry in June 2018.

“I just want to take my time though before I do too much as I don't want to be doing any harm."

William says he cannot thank his brother enough for giving him his life back.

“It was a major thing for him to lose a vital organ out of his body.

“I also have to thank my surgeon Dr Tim Brown and my doctor Dr Poots from Mourne Family Surgery, Dr John Harty and the renal units in the City Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital and my neighbours who have all helped me when I was ill."

William was in hospital when his surgeon approached them about a BBC series that was being filmed.

“He put our names forward for it because we had been through so much in a year.

“It was nerve-wracking appearing on camera but if it highlights that those who donate are heroes, then that is all I can ask for," said William.

Johnny said that organ donation was something that had "never crossed his mind".

“It puts it into perspective when it is someone you know and who is so close to you. I am sure everyone would do the same for their brother or family member."

Johnny has also joined the Organ Donor register.

“If I can do it, then anybody can. It changed William's life. Now he will always be in debt to me!" jokes Johnny.

Episode 1 of the series called 'The Ultimate Gift' will air tonight (Tuesday) at 10.35pm.

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