A marathon runner from Edinburgh has been given a second chance with his family after a stranger decided to donate a kidney.
Chris Madden, 42, was diagnosed with “aggressive” stage-five kidney disease in 2020 and was almost immediately put on a donor waiting list.
He began gruelling dialysis within three weeks of his diagnosis, going from running marathons to barely being able to play with his children.
“It was quite a shock – I had been to the doctor with a sore head and suddenly I was told that my kidneys didn’t work, I would have to have dialysis and a kidney transplant,” said Chris.
“As soon as I went on dialysis, I pretty much disappeared from my two young kids. I always had energy, but it became hard enough to muster enough energy to play with the children for half an hour – and that absolutely broke me.”
Now, the electrical engineer feels he has been given a second chance with his wife Beverley and children Harry and Georgia.
“I was really worried that I was running out of time, but when the team found a match for me, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“When I was being wheeled out of theatre and realised the transplant had been successful, I started shouting for joy and the nurses had to calm me down.
“14 months on, I’m now able to play with my kids, go on weekends away and I’ve even started some light running.
“I really can’t imagine someone donating to a stranger. It’s the most selfless act, which can only be described as beautiful.”
The donor, Val Cooper, had never met Chris – and decided to donate on a whim after reading about altruistic organ donation.
The 48-year-old from Glen Urquhart, in the Highlands, worked with a living donation team in Inverness to make sure that the operation could go ahead.
Her hopes were almost dashed when doctors found she had an aneurysm on her kidney, but they were able to fix it and carry on while teams cross-country worked to find the perfect match.
Val, who works in a third sector charity café, said: “I was heartbroken that I might not get to donate, but doctors said they were hopeful they could fix it and continue with the donation process.”
“This was a no brainer for me, I was so certain that I wanted to give my organ to someone who needed it.”
Chris and Val underwent the life-changing living donation and kidney transplant surgeries at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in June 2021.
Shortly after the transplant, Chris got in touch and the pair corresponded by letter for a few months.
They have now agreed to meet so that Chris can properly thank Val in person, and she can see the huge difference that her choice made.
Chris said: “I think it will be pure emotion when I meet Val, I don’t even know how to put into words how thankful I am.”
Val added: “I knew there was a chance that I would never find out who I gave my kidney to but I can’t wait to meet Chris – it will be such an emotional meeting.”
For many people with end-stage kidney failure, a transplant significantly increases life expectancy.
However, the shortage of organ donors in the UK means that many patients wait three years on average for a kidney from a deceased donor.
According to the NHS Lothian Living Kidney Donation team, only around a third of living donor transplants in Edinburgh are from a genetically related donor, and often a direct living donor may be a spouse, partner, friend or work colleague.
Nina Kunkel, Chris and Val’s transplant co-ordinator, NHS Lothian, said: “This was quite an unusual situation where our altruistic donor wanted to have her kidney removed not alone as treatment for her aneurysm, but in hope that once removed, the aneurysm could be repaired so that her kidney could still be donated to someone in need.
“We couldn’t confirm it was possible until her kidney was removed but the team were delighted that we could facilitate her wishes and equally pleased that the transplant was such a success for the recipient.
“We wish them both the very best.”