Kidney transplant man hails life-changing op after 17-year wait
He waited 17 years for the phone to ring.
William Johnston had given up hope of a normal life until one day, completely out of the blue, he got a call that would change him forever.
Born with a kidney defect, the 47-year-old Bangor man had his first operation aged three.
Doctors didn't expect him to make it past his teens but he defied the odds.
Years later, after giving blood, William was told his kidneys had disintegrated and he had to start dialysis treatment immediately.
He received a kidney transplant, but two years later his body rejected it.
Since 1997 William has been kept alive by undergoing dialysis treatment four times a week for four-and-a-half hours for the past 17 years.
He lived a life full of restrictions. He was on a strict diet and was only allowed to drink 700 millilitres of liquid a day – that's just two cans of coke.
He couldn't travel far without making sure he had been booked into a dialysis ward nearby.
William recalled the hardest thing about the treatment was the needles, which he described as "frighteningly big".
But now, after years of disappointment, periods of depression and uncountable hours of treatment – William's life is just about to begin.
"I will never forget the telephone call or where I was when I got it," William said.
"I was in the Belfast Activity Centre, which we were looking at for one of our upcoming challenges, and my telephone went.
"I thought it was someone inquiring about plans, but it was the transplant co-ordinator.
"He said 'Is this William Johnston? We have good news for you there is a kidney for you, get yourself up to Belfast City Hospital straight away'."
Suitably stunned William asked: "Are you sure you have the right William Johnston?
"It was absolutely a moment I will never forget."
Immediately, William phoned his family, who were delighted for him. "They realised what it meant that after years of living in hope I was about to start a new chapter of my life," he said.
"It's not just given me a new life but my wife Carla and my family as well – and that's all down to the bravery, compassion and courage of the donor and their family. I'll be forever indebted to them."
William has been a tireless campaigner for organ donation.
After years of waiting, William walked out of Belfast City Hospital yesterday and said: "It's like winning the Lottery."
"My hospital ward was at the top of the tower block in the City so I looked out over Belfast. I could look out and see my future for the first time.
"The moment you have the transplant it's like you become a butterfly and you get to spread your wings. Now I have a future where I can start enjoying the world again and stop worrying about how long I've got left to live."
A battle of Bills that could delay action for another 10 years
For years William has campaigned in support of a new law to boost organ donations in Northern Ireland.
UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson – whose son Mark received a kidney transplant in February 2009 – tabled a Private Member's Bill in December 2012.
Ms Dobson proposes to change the law so everyone is automatically put on the register unless they opt out.
It is now at a drafting stage and was to be brought before the Assembly this spring.
Earlier this month her plans appeared to be threatened as a DUP MLA tabled a rival bill on the same topic.
Alastair Ross confirmed he would be bringing forward a new Private Member's Bill to the Assembly on organ donation at the end of January. Mr Ross denied the move was political, and instead said he wanted an 'opt-in system' via driver's licences, after disagreeing with her proposals on ethical grounds.
At the time Ms Dobson said: "We need one clear message on organ donation and I think this would confuse the public."
First Minister Peter Robinson lent his support to both Bills, as they would increase the level of organ donation.
As one of many who have benefited from the donation of an organ, William – a long-time friend of Ms Dobson – said the important thing was that a Bill goes through.
"We can't afford to have all this squabbling around with Bills going through, action has got to be taken now," he said.
"If Jo-Anne's Bill doesn't go through you are looking at another 10 years of sitting around talking about it. For the Bill to be brought in, an MLA had to step forward. It just so happened it was Jo-Anne.
"We supported Jo-Anne first and foremost because she was the mother of a transplant recipient and she is also a member of one of the transplant charities, so she is totally committed to the cause."