A man whose life-threatening kidney failure left him three hours from death discovered his wife was a organ donor match to save his life on his 50th birthday.
Business manager Stephen Kelsey, 50, was one of only 40 people in the UK to suffer from ANCA vasculitis, a potentially fatal autoimmune disease which causes the body to attack its essential organs, after being diagnosed in October 2018.
His life revolved around gruelling four-hour dialysis sessions three times a week while he waited on a waiting list to get a new kidney from a deceased donor, which he was told would take up to five years.
However, he ended up getting a new kidney in just eight months thanks to retail manager wife Tracy, 45, who got tested and found she was a suitable match for her husband of 24 years.
After coincidentally getting the phone call confirming she could donate her kidney on January 8 this year (the day of Stephen's 50th birthday), Tracy revealed the momentous news to her husband the same day.
Doctors scheduled the nine hour procedure for just over a month later, on February 20, and the couple, from Rotherham, South Yorks, are now recovering from the transplant at home.
Stephen said: "Before the transplant, my life revolved around dialysis. It was horrendous. I couldn't go on holiday; I couldn't go to work full time; I would come home from dialysis and feel rubbish. I was just existing on a hamster wheel, going round and round.
"I called it 'sleep, eat, dialysis repeat'. There were times I wished I was dead. So, when Tracy said she was a match on my 50th birthday, I just broke down in tears.
"I was at the gym and she rang me and told me to come home immediately and when I came home she stood there and said we could have the transplant. We hugged each other and cried for a long time.
"It was 11am in the morning, so when we went out for a birthday meal with my friends later it was like a double celebration."
Tracy added: "It was my birthday present for him. It was an amazing thing to do while I'm alive. I was a registered organ donor for years, but to be able to help somebody you love while you're alive is even better.
"The decision to get tested and see if I was a match was instinctive. We were just chatting to the doctor and I just said, 'I want to get checked. If there's a possibility I can help, I want to find out.' And for it to be a success, it's such a great feeling."
Stephen's life had been on hold since October 2018 when he was rushed to Rotherham General Hospital after a suspected chest infection took a downward turn and he became unable to eat and drink.
Doctors at the hospital carried out blood tests and were horrified to discover his potassium levels were almost three times higher than a healthy person's, and he was suffering from blood poisoning and pneumonia from kidney failure.
He was rushed into intensive care where he spent four days before being transferred to the renal unit where he had to have four hours of dialysis and four hours of blood plasma transfusions every day for a week and another seven days of daily dialysis the following week.
Stephen said: "It was terrifying. They were worried I was going to have heart failure because of my potassium levels. I later found out that if I had not gone to hospital, I would have only had three to four more hours left to live.
"I felt that my whole world had collapsed. I was empty. I was thinking 'why me?' and trying to reason in my head about why it had happened to me.
"I had to learn to walk again because when you are on any bed rest, you lose 1.4 per cent of muscle mass per day - my legs were so weak. It was pretty reality-checking as I had been very fit before, I played lots of squash. So to have that taken away from me, it was like having the rug pulled out from under me."
A doctor told Stephen he was well enough to go on the transplant list in June 2019 during a consultation which Tracy was present at.
But as soon as the medic began explaining the option of a living donor, Tracy interrupted him and said she wanted to get tested as a potential kidney donor for Stephen.
She underwent blood and tissue match tests and a liver function test before getting the final go ahead to be a donor earlier this year.
Today, Stephen and Tracy are at home recovering from the kidney transplant operations which they underwent on the same day last month at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital with plenty of painkillers and daytime TV.
They spent five days in hospital following the transplant operation and each have at least three months off work while they recover.
Now, the couple are planning to act as kidney ambassadors for the Northern General Hospital, helping other people about to undergo kidney transplants prepare for the operation, as well as raising awareness about living kidney donations, which are the best treatment option for people suffering from kidney disease.
With Stephen's kidney function already on the up, they are now setting their ambitions on what will be their first holiday for more than two years next summer to see Stephen's aunt and cousins in Johannesburg.
Stephen said: "The operation was the hardest thing I've ever done. I was terrified for Tracy. They wheeled her away from me and I had to watch them wheel her away down to surgery.
"I was absolutely mortified because I was putting somebody who I love in harm's way. I was making them unwell. To make matters worse we lost our beloved Labrador, Smudge, the day we went in for the operation. It was such a difficult time.
"When I came around, all I wanted to do was go and see Tracy. All I wanted to do was sit with my wife and talk to her. I immediately felt better, because I had had such bad kidney function before the operation."
The pair were also thrilled when Peak District wildlife and landscape photographer Villager Jim donated them a canvas of a photograph he had taken of five stags walking towards the camera - which he had taken the same morning as the transplant took place.
Stephen added: "It costs £110,000 a year to keep somebody on dialysis. Transplants not only transform lives, they're also very cost effective. I want people to know that you can give somebody their life back, because that's the reality of it with me.
"I've had a second chance at my life thanks to my wife giving me her kidney."
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