Belfast Telegraph

My daughter gave me her kidney... and a new life

By Brendan McDaid

A daughter who donated her kidney to her seriously ill father has been praised for her bravery.

Ilona Neilson and Robert Smyth from Co Londonderry are now healing well at home following the major transplant operation in Belfast City Hospital two weeks ago.

Mr Smyth (73) said he was deeply grateful for the sacrifice his only daughter made.

Speaking from his Eglinton home, the retired insurance businessman and father-of-four, said: “We are a very close family. It was very, very brave of her to undergo a very serious operation that was life-threatening.

“I was asked by a number of people, what do you think are the ethics of a young, healthy woman undergoing such a serious operation for an old man?

“I tell them this isn’t a routine donor recipient case, this is a love story — a true love story where a daughter thinks so much of her father that she wants the best quality of life for me.”

Mr Smyth has battled renal disease all his life.

He was born with the condition but it wasn’t detected until he was in his 30s.

In recent years he has had to undergo dialysis three times a week for at least four hours at a time.

In 2004 he was told by doctors that his condition had deteriorated so badly that he would need a transplant and the search began for a donor.

He also revealed that four other relatives, including his son and Ilona’s American husband, had undergone tests to donate a kidney to him.

He said: “I had four other family members offer me their kidneys and each time there was a little problem that made them not a suitable donor.

“My son Stephen came from America for two years because that is the testing process time, and spent $100,000 living here with his family.

“Everything went well until the last test, when it was found it wouldn’t be suitable for transplant.”

Ilona (36) and her husband Shayne had returned from Florida seven years ago to set up home back in Derry.

Mr Smyth said: “Shayne went for tests, and while he was a match, it was discovered his blood and my blood were fighting each other. My two sisters, Maureen Butcher and Carol McGeady, also offered to be donors.”

Mr Smyth said both he and his daughter had recovered quickly from their operations, although they would be monitored closely for the next three months.

“Everything went exceptionally well,” he said.

“It was a highly successful transplant operation and when they took the scans afterwards you could see the blood flowing and the kidney working.

“They told me I would be in hospital for three weeks and I got out in 10 days.

“Ilona got out on the Friday after the operation and I got out the following Friday.

“Her first 24 hours were a nightmare and the next 24 were a little bit better, but since then she is recovering slowly.”

Mr Smyth said his wife Heather sons Lloyd and David and their families were all delighted to have Ilona and himself back home.


The average waiting time for an adult kidney transplant is 1,110 days, or nearly three years. Children, who are prioritised, wait an average of 277 days. From April 2009 to March 2010, 16 living donors gave a kidney to unknown recipients; 23% of living kidney donations in the UK were parent to child and 27% were sibling to sibling. To sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register, text SAVE to 84118, telephone 0300 1232323, or log on to

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph