Belfast Telegraph

30 years on, Northern Ireland mum given Christmas gift of life, thanks to kidney donor

By Cate McCurry

An "inspirational" woman who was donated a kidney 30 years ago said it has allowed her to watch her son and grandchildren grow up.

Noreen Hamilton (57) had only become a first-time mum in 1983 when she discovered she needed a new kidney.

Despite having a newborn son to care for, Noreen spent the next four years undergoing gruelling dialysis twice a week.

The Banbridge woman, now a grandmother of two, described how the pain and fluid in her body left her unable to hold baby Wayne in her arms or feed him.

"It was a nightmare time for me, you take your health for granted all the time, you never think it's going to happen to you," she said.

"During those four years I couldn't do anything for myself. I couldn't climb the stairs, couldn't eat or drink or go on holidays. I had to stay near the house in case I got a call for the transplant.

"I struggled to go to the toilet.

"Until someone goes through it they will never understand how bad it is.

"Wayne was my first and only child. I think I had him out in the pram only twice."

Noreen spent sleepless nights waiting for the call to confirm that a match had been found.

Then in December 1987, just days before Christmas, Noreen was awakened by her mother.

"I didn't sleep during the nights as I thought that's when the hospital would phone me but I had Wayne's fourth birthday party that weekend and I was exhausted and fell asleep," she added.

"I never heard the hospital ringing and they rang and rang but couldn't get through so they contacted mummy and she came to the house, but I couldn't hear the front door, so she was banging at my bedroom window shouting at me to get out of bed."

At the age of 26, Noreen was brought in for a transplant that would change her life.

Her amazing story featured on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph 30 years ago this week.

"I never thought it would happen," she added.

"This phone call came years after watching all the patients on the dialysis ward come and go and I didn't think it was going to happen for me, so I couldn't believe it when my turn came up."

After the successful operation medics told Noreen she would probably return to hospital because of problems associated with kidney transplants, but 30 years on, she hasn't needed to.

She added: "The kidney started working the minute it was implanted, it was meant for me.

"I can deal with whatever comes my way now. It has prolonged my life, I could play with my child. I can now play with my grandkids and do things with them that I never got to do with my son."

Noreen is now an organ donation campaigner and has been raising awareness of the importance of carrying donor cards.

She continued: "The person whose kidney I have gave me my life back and there are no words. I look at my family and without that person I wouldn't be here to see them."

Former UUP MLA and family friend Jo-Anne Dobson, who spearheaded a campaign to introduce a new policy on organ donors in Northern Ireland, said Noreen is an "inspiration".

"Noreen is one of the committed army of transplant trailblazers who received their 'gift of life' many decades ago," she said.

"Like so many people I am privileged to know Noreen and her family and to see first-hand the amazing difference which receiving a donated kidney has made to her.

"Over the past 30 years it has enabled her to raise her son Wayne and to welcome her beloved grandchildren into the world.

"Noreen has a wonderful can-do attitude - she is a real transplant hero."

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