CAMPAIGN: Plea for more organ donors

NARG 1403171AM3 Kidney transplant couple Dennis and Jacqueline Roberts. Picture : Adrian Murray(1403171AM3)
NARG 1403171AM3 Kidney transplant couple Dennis and Jacqueline Roberts. Picture : Adrian Murray(1403171AM3)

Railwayman Dennis Roberts was left fighting for his life after being diagnosed with a crippling genetic disease.

Until, that is, his wife Jacqueline proved a match and gave him a kidney transplant.



“When I woke up after my operation, it was as if I had jump leads attached,” said the Knaresborough signalman, who lives in Ripon.

“I felt revitalised. I thought at first it was the morphine. But I haven’t come down yet.”

Dennis, now 61, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease at the age of 33. It meant that cysts were growing on his kidneys, causing them slowly to fail.

Checking his family medical history, it came as a sharp shock to realise the condition was genetic - and almost everyone in his family was affected.

His brother died of the illness. Another is on dialysis as he waits on the transplant list. His mother and grandmother both suffered.

And he has passed it on to his two sons, aged 24 and 30.

“It’s the most common hereditary disease there is,” he said. “But it doesn’t usually show itself until you’re in your 50s.”

Dennis was given support and advice from the polycystic kidney charity and referred to consultants at York Teaching Hospital, who said they would carry on as normal until his kidney function dropped to 12 per cent. Which it did in 2009.

“’Was there anybody in my family that could give me a kidney?’”, he said. “There was only Jacqueline left. She said yes, straight away.

“And the tests on her came back amazing. We were a match - a good match.”

The couple were booked in for surgery at St James’ hospital in Leeds just weeks later.

“It was strange really, knowing we would both be going in together,” said Jacqueline, 55.

“We decided to catch the 36 bus to Leeds. We knew we weren’t going to be able to drive home, so we tried to keep it normal.

“It was actually quite fun. We were sat there giggling at the thought of what everyone else on the bus would say if they knew what we were doing.”

The operation was on a Friday morning in October, 2009.

“Jacqueline went down first,” said Dennis. “Then, they said, they would have ‘a spot of lunch’ before I went down to the transplant room as well.

“They didn’t remove the old kidneys, so I ended up with three and Jacqueline had one.”

The couple even have nicknames for their kidneys.

“Dennis’ new kidney is called Jennifer, as he likes the name,” said Jacqueline. “Mine is called Billy, as in ‘Billy no-mates’, because it’s all alone.”

Within six months of the operation, he was back at work with Northern Rail as a signalman at Knaresborough train station, where he has worked for the last 12 years.

He’s been in and out of hospital since, with his original kidneys growing more cysts, and developing septicaemia.

When the kidneys - normally the size of cricket balls - were finally removed in January of this year, they were the size of footballs.

“I was really poorly,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the transplant, I wouldn’t have got through that. I wouldn’t have lived.”

Now, with the help of his wife’s gift, he hopes to go back to work for good next month.

“People said to me ‘aren’t you brave’,” said Jacqueline. “I don’t think so - this was the easier option. This condition, even if he had gone onto dialysis, would have taken over our lives.

“The transplant improved my quality of life as well. Dennis was able to go back to work. We’ve never had to claim any benefits. And it wasn’t frightening.

“Both of us, on the operating table, were thinking ‘we wake up, or we don’t’. And we woke up. So there you are.”

The couple, from Blossomgate in Ripon, are very matter of fact about what they’ve been through.

They smile as they recall being unable to walk after the operation, and laugh about the look on their GP’s face when they turned up at his surgery.

“He asked if we’d been in a car crash!”, they said.

But, said Jacqueline, it was always straightforward in her mind. Get through the operation, and come out the other side.

“Everybody was amazed by how chilled out we were about it,” she said. “They kept saying to me - ‘do you realise this is a serious operation?’

“But in my mind it was like having a baby. I go through the pain, and then I get a new husband. And you forget the pain.”

The couple, backing the Advertiser series campaign, say signing up to the organ donor register is something everyone should consider.

“People have just got to do it,” said Jacqueline. “They have to. You are giving such a gift to people whose lives are just in limbo.”

It’s not just about the person who is given the organ, they added, but their children - and saving their mum, or dad, or granddad.

“When it’s your family member, you are just so desperate,” said Jacqueline. “If some good can come of your loss, then it’s worth it.

“To give someone the gift of life is the best gift you can give.”


A life-changing 442 people have signed up to the organ donor register in the Harrogate district since the launch of an Advertiser series campaign.

That’s an average of 44 people a week pledging to help those in the Harrogate district who are in desperate need of a lifesaving donation.

In the 10 weeks of the campaign, the Advertiser series has heard from families who have lost a loved one, from a father who has seen his life transformed, and from others who are waiting anxiously for news. One couple, with two sons needing a heart transplant, are going through the process twice.

And this week we hear from a resilient couple who have braved the ordeal of a transplant operation together.

And it is making a huge difference. Nearly 100 people signed up in the first month of the campaign. But in each of the two months since, that figure has nearly doubled - to 172 in February and 178 in March.

Have you been affected by organ donation? Help us make a difference in the Harrogate district. Share your story by emailing or calling 01423 707509.

n To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit, or call 0300 1232323.

Harrogate Donor Facts

9 people have died in the Harrogate district while waiting for an organ transplant in the last five years

23 more people are still waiting for help in our area. Five are waiting for a kidney, the remainder are waiting for heart, liver and pancreas transplants

7 people in the Harrogate postcode have had their lives saved or transformed by a transplant in the last year

7 more having their sight restored by a cornea transplant

442 have signed up to the organ donor register since the launch of the Harrogate Advertiser series campaign


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