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Relatively Speaking: Sisters Jackie and Joan open up

By Joanne Sweeney

We ask personalities about the special family relationships in their lives.

Name: Jackie Smiley

Age: 67

Occupation: Retired NIE worker

Relationship to Joan: Sister

Unfortunately kidney failure is something that runs in our family as I have the genetic kidney disorder Alport Syndrome. My mother, Doreen Curry, had to have a kidney transplant in her later years and our middle sister, Yvonne Scott, has also needed two transplants.

I had to have my first kidney transplant in 1983 when I was 36 after being on dialysis for two years. I was well up until 1998 when my kidneys began to fail and I had to go back on dialysis again for 15 years.

Last year, my husband Tom – we will be married 43 years this year – was checked to see if he would be a suitable candidate for me, but he wasn't. However, my eldest sister Joan turned out to be the one.

Joan had said to me years ago that if there was any chance of her giving me a kidney, she would but I kept saying no, just in case this genetic disorder also affected her two daughters and son.

But there was absolutely no doubt in her mind and I really thank her for that. It's been fantastic. That's sisterly love for you.

Thankfully both of us came through the donation and transplant with no problems.

I don't feel any different about this live donation from my sister than I did with my first, which was a gift from the family of a loved one who had died. I will never, ever forget what they did for me. With Joan, it's exactly the same, she's given me a new life.

All this has brought Joan and I even closer together, if that's possible. My other sister Yvonne and I were always particularly close as we both had our kidney problems and had transplants. But because Joan and I have gone through this, we have that extra wee bond.

I would like to encourage everyone to have the discussion with their loved ones about organ donation after their death and also to sign the organ donation register."

Name: Joan McQuillan

Age: 70

Occupation: Retired supermarket worker

Relationship to Jackie: Sister

There are only three and a half years between me and my two sisters. We had a very happy childhood and have always been very close.

Even though I am the eldest, I think that Jackie and I would have been quite similar when we were growing up. We are the type that when we aren't well and someone asks us about it, we would just say we're fine. I became Jackie's life donor on January 13 of this year and I'm delighted to say that we came through it with flying colours.

My husband Billy died two years ago, but my children, Joanne, Richard and Julie, were a bit anxious before it.

I did it out of love for Jackie. I honestly never feared a thing going through it and I would recommend anyone to think about it. The whole process was much better than I thought it was going to be, and I had absolutely nothing to do to prepare for it beforehand. As long as Jackie was going to be alright, then I was too; that's what mattered.

I couldn't believe how everything went so well; the only thing is that I had less energy after the operation for a while but I had been advised that it could take three months to get over this.

I'm back to full health and fitness now and am able to exercise my daughter's dog again. I take a walk every day and am eating healthier as well.

Things have improved so much in kidney transplantation than years ago when I first offered to give Jackie a kidney. Then, I needed to be a perfect match but I'm only an 80% match and in fact they were still able to do it.

We have nothing but praise for all the consultants, surgeons and nursing staff who looked after us at the Belfast City Hospital. Jackie and I are keen to encourage other family members to consider live donations and are meeting up with a woman this Friday, who's considering doing it for her sister in England."

How to become a donor

  • National Transplant Week runs until this Sunday (July 13) and people are encouraged to consider becoming a donor
  • The best way of becoming an organ donor is to join the register. More information can be found at www.organdonationni. info/register or when registering for a driving licence, with a GP surgery, for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), or when applying for a Boots Advantage card
  • You also need to tell your family your wishes as they would have the final say after you die

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