Two local sisters enjoyed this Christmas more than most after one gave the other the ultimate gift — life.
East Belfast woman Hilary Marshall, 55, had been receiving kidney dialysis treatment for nine years after having both kidneys removed — a process that was weakening her heart by the day and which had brought on two strokes.
But after numerous failed attempts to get a transplant, a hero stepped forward — Hilary’s sister, Holywood woman, Stephanie Johnston.
Despite the risks of donating a kidney to her sister, Stephanie, 48, had intensive keyhole surgery at Belfast City Hospital and has given Hilary the life she had been dreaming of for nearly a decade.
On Saturday Hilary was able to enjoy a Christmas dinner for the first time in years having shaken off the shackles of the strict diet the dialysis demanded.
A joyous Hilary told the Community Telegraph: “There is no way I can thank my sister for what she has done for me; she has saved my life. This is the best Christmas I’ve had in nine years.”
Hilary explained: “Twelve years ago I was feeling sick, I was losing weight and my appetite and had constant infections.”
Diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, she subsequently had both kidneys removed and had to have dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time.
In the last four years, Hilary’s health deteriorated and after two strokes she was taken off the transplant list as she was deemed ‘not well enough’.
But, even when she was on the list, things weren’t promising. Two ‘transplant calls’ in the middle of the night proved to be futile.
Desperate, Hilary turned to her family and with her brother a diabetic and not suitable, she turned to her last hope — her sister Stephanie.
“She said ‘yes’. She had to lose weight, have lots of tests, and go through the education side of things; things that might happen to her living with one kidney. She basically was getting sick to give me a kidney.”
The transplant was scheduled for December 10 — but Hilary asked Stephanie to reconsider, as they were going into theatre.
“I actually tried to put her off but she wanted to do this. We are both Christians and my sister told me she had been praying all this time and the Lord was guiding her to do this. She said, ‘If anything does happen me, it’s not your fault’. She was so happy and couldn’t wait to give me this new life.”
Stephanie, now almost fully recovered, says: “I knew Hilary had been ill, I was the only one in the family who could have done it, so I didn’t mind. I know she would have done it for me.
“It was definitely worthwhile. It makes me feel good that my sister doesn’t have to go to dialysis three times a week any more. I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like for her all that time.”