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Living Kidney Awareness Week - Matthew's Story

Matthew Catlow was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2010.  I was 29 years old.  It was through a routine medical for work that my kidney failure was detected.  It was very lucky.

Of course, my family and I had no idea.  There were no prior symptoms and I felt in good health.  It was a shock to all of us, and my condition was initially managed by medication and lifestyle changes.  Everything felt normal, and I returned to my job at sea as an officer for a cruise line.

Onboard the cruise ships I had a monthly check-up with the ships doctor, to monitor my blood pressure and kidney function.  In May 2012 my kidney function dropped to a level that could not be managed onboard.  I was medically disembarked and returned to Scotland at the start of June.

It was incredibly difficult for me to come back home.  I still felt in excellent shape and didn’t want to leave the career I loved.  I felt that it had all been unfairly taken away from me.  My wife Kathy, who I met at sea in 2011, continued to work for the cruise line whilst we decided what we were going to do.  As we were not married at the time it was impossible for her to get any kind of residency visa.

I began dialysis in the same year, 2012.  I tried peritoneal dialysis so I could do it at home, I wanted to remain as independent as possible.  However, it was painful and kept me awake all night.  After several weeks of trying, I switched to haemodialysis.   I attended the Western General, Edinburgh, for three sessions a week, each lasting up to four and a half hours.  All in all, a single session could take up to six hours out of my day.

At the time I was working as Night Manager in a nearby hotel, so I could attend the dialysis sessions.  It was not my preferred option, but I couldn’t find any other employers who could work with my routine during the mornings.

I was fortunate because I generally found the treatment trouble and stress free.  The dialysis staff were fantastic.  I am very grateful for the professional and friendly way in which they looked after me.  If it wasn’t for them, I am positive that the experience would have been far less pleasant.

I was put on the transplant list at the same time I started dialysis sessions, when I had returned permanently to the UK.  For me, I quickly forgot about it.  It was never on my mind and I just got on with my life.  I knew that a compatible donor could come up at any time, but there’s not an awful lot you can do to affect that outcome.

You need to plan your whole life around the dialysis sessions.  It can be frustrating, infuriating at times having to juggle work and life around them.  My diet also changed.  I ate foods low in potassium, which cut out some of the things I really loved.  Potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, olives, orange juice to name just a few, were either cut out or consumed in strict moderation.

However, I must confess there were some benefits to this type of diet.  To this day, I have all but cut out additional salt and sugar when I cook. 

I was on dialysis for almost three years.  There were times between my dialysis sessions half way through my second year, when I felt a more tired than normal, I had muscle cramps or a lack of appetite.  It was barely noticeable at times but other times it was worse.

January 2015.  That’s when I got the phone call.  I had just left one of my dialysis sessions, and I received a call from the transplant co-ordination team.  I had matched an altruistic kidney donor.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was a wonderful day.

Life after my transplant has changed completely.  In the weeks after the transplant I felt more energetic, stronger, happier.  The new kidney had started doing its job immediately.  That has continued to this day.

I no longer have to factor those dialysis sessions into my plans.  I am free to do what I want in the mornings and my days off.  We have just returned from a month on holiday in Peru, and all without the stress and inconvenience of attending dialysis in a foreign country.

My appetite has returned and that has actually made more of a difference than I imagined, I am very happy!

The main difference in my life after the donation, was a shared one, and one I will be eternally grateful for.  It was the gift of life itself.  Being on dialysis, I became aware of my own mortality.  Being hooked up to a machine that you rely on to survive makes you look at life in different ways, forces you to consider things you have never had to before.

I was guilty of putting my life on hold in certain ways before dialysis.  In retrospect this was a mistake, but the gift of a new kidney gave me a much clearer and more positive outlook on life.

Kathy moved to Scotland in February 2015, a month after my transplant.  In January 2017, Kathy became pregnant and we welcomed our daughter, Elisabeth into our family.

The gift of a new kidney has allowed me to start a family, with a renewed positivity about what the future can bring.

I feel I can look forward to seeing Elisabeth growing up, and take an active part in her life and the challenges that lie ahead.

With this new kidney, although nothing is ever certain, I now have the chance to be the husband and father I was so unsure about before the transplant.

My wife and I are eternally grateful to the brave, selfless person who risked their life, in order to give me mine back.  To us, that is a miracle and one we will never forget.