A man who has battled kidney disease for four decades has described the overwhelming love he has for the daughter who is helping to save his life.
In an inspirational story of one of the most selfless acts possible, Ilona Neilson has donated a kidney to her father, Robert Smyth, and the pair are recovering at Belfast City Hospital.
The surgery, which took place on Wednesday, was one of an increasing number of live kidney transplants taking place in Northern Ireland and it is hoped the pair will be able to return to their homes in Eglinton within weeks.
Just hours before the life-transforming operation, Mr Smyth (73) paid a glowing tribute to his daughter for the amazing gift of life she was about to give: “I am unable to express in words just how proud I am of her.
“It’s not just a matter of gaining a kidney, it's a matter of just how much love can exist within a family and to me, that is even more significant than receiving a kidney and extension to my life. I love her so much and she knows this.”
‘I’m unable to express how proud I am of her’
Mr Smyth has suffered from kidney disease for over 40 years and endured many years hooked to a dialysis machine just to stay alive.
He was told by doctors in 2004 he would need a transplant and so began the search for a suitable match. This resulted in the discovery that his daughter was a near-perfect match and the date for the operation was set.
Ms Neilson was taken to the theatre at 8.30am for the removal of her kidney, which was then transplanted into her dad at noon — once final checks showed he did not need a dialysis session before the surgery.
Ahead of the transplant, father and daughter spent some private time together at the hospital when Mr Smyth presented his beloved daughter with a poem he had written, telling her how much he loved her, appreciated what she was doing for him and thanking her for the gift of life.
He said: “I think she is a wonderful, beautiful young lady and I am very proud of her. This has made me more appreciative of life, it has brightened up my whole future, life means more now because of this.
‘This has made me more appreciative of life’
“I am looking forward to a new lease of life. It’s hard to imagine how it’s going to be until it actually happens, but I will be able to go on holiday and see my other family. It’s just wonderful.”
He originally felt guilty about accepting his daughter’s wonderful offer because of his age, however his consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital allayed his worries and told him: “This has nothing to do with age, but everything to do with love.”
Both father and daughter are keen for people to register as donors.
Mr Smyth said: “If people have the chance, they should go to a kidney isolation unit and see what life is like for those waiting for a transplant.”