David is a 27-year-old health care support worker with the NHS. In May 2022 he took the amazing step of donating the lateral left segment of his liver – 25 per cent of its total – to a toddler completely unknown to him. Thank you for sharing your story with us, David.
The point of life is to love each other and when you treat a stranger’s life as being just as precious as your own, amazing things can happen.
There are currently 603 adults and 41 children in the UK in urgent need of a liver transplant. Every year adults and children die waiting for one or are removed from the transplant list as they become too sick for the operation. Now there is sudden onset liver failure in children caused by Adenovirus and Hepatitis C. Sadly there are not enough livers from deceased donors to meet the pressing need.
I found out about living liver donations through listening to Made of Stronger Stuff on Radio 4, a programme exploring the wonders of the human body which featured someone who had donated part of their liver. I thought “I’m young, I’m healthy, I could do that” so I got in touch with the transplant team in Leeds and registered my interest.
After I had the medical and psychological assessments, I had a few months of waiting. The transplant team had me lined up to donate to one child, but then said the kid involved would be too small to safely do the operation and asked if rather than the planned 25 per cent, would I be willing to give 40 per cent of my liver to a larger child or small adult. I decided I would be willing, but a few days later I got another call from the transplant team who said they had a toddler who had come in with total liver failure – one of the new adenovirus patients – and that I was a match. They asked ‘Can we do this now?’ And I agreed.
The living donor team made me aware of the risks at every opportunity
One of the fantastic things about the living donor team is they do everything they can to put you off. They made me extremely aware of the risks at every opportunity, such as blood clots, bile leaks, hernias and infections, even the one in 500 chance of death. Even when they were putting me to sleep they said: “If you don’t want to go through with this it’s absolutely fine.” There was no pressure at all from them to go ahead, which was very reassuring.
That said I was terrified, it’s scary to be cut open and have parts of yourself removed, but it was something I knew I could see through.
I’d done four 13-hour shifts back-to-back at work, so by the time I got on the table and was being put to sleep I was glad to get some sleep!
Initially when I woke up I was ecstatic, firstly because I was on a huge amount of drugs! I was ecstatic too at still being alive, although there was only a very small chance that I wouldn’t be, and thanked everyone profusely. It was painful, looking down at the scar was not great and I did unfortunately get a chest infection while I was in hospital, but luckily that was the only complication. In all, it was not too bad at all.
In the days leading up to the donation I had been at the peak of physical fitness, rock climbing and all sorts, so being in bed, getting bed washes and not being able to do very much which was a shock. I’m more used to giving bed washes to my patients, but it was good to be on the receiving end as it will make me a better carer. After three or four days I was able to shower myself and slowly begin to get back to normal.
I was very lucky to be able to have my friends and family come and visit me in hospital. They were very supportive of my decision and did wonders for my morale. Six days after the op I was discharged to the loving care of my family for a week before I moved back to York.
The child's new liver had taken and will grow with them
Two months later the Live Donor Team told me the child’s new liver had taken, their condition was improving and that they were back home! The donated liver will grow with them and my remaining liver grew back to its full size in eight weeks which is phenomenal. There is now a 90 per cent chance the child will go on to have at least five or more years of life in which to love and be loved.
I’ve not been allowed to return to work for three months post op and then I was due to go back for three months on light duties. Unfortunately, my employer couldn’t provide me with the light duties but that has just meant I get to be off work for six months instead. The NHS have a loss of earnings scheme so donors don’t financially lose out by donating so I’m now having a fantastically long holiday. Although it’s frustrating I can’t do a lot of exercise just for the time being, I’ve been using the time to see lots of friends and go to lovely gigs, the opera and the ballet. I feel very lucky.
I’ll be returning to work on full duties back in November when I’ll also be back to rock climbing, football and normal life!
Choosing to be a living liver donor was very much linked to my experiences in Kurdistan and then Turkey in 2015 and 2016 during the refugee crisis. After teaching English in a refugee camp I volunteered with a charity which provided sea-worthy life jackets to Yazidi survivors of the ISIS genocide. Faced with no other option, the survivors were attempting to cross the Aegean Sea on flimsy boats to seek safety, peace and a home in Europe. I strapped children into life-jackets, prayed they wouldn’t drown and that they would see the morning. One in every 88 people who attempted the crossing in 2016 died. They died because Europe refused to provide safe routes to seek asylum. Europe refused to see their humanity. They were treated as if their lives didn’t matter.
I want to encourage more people to consider becoming living organ donors
The life of the child I donated to is of incalculable worth as are the lives of every person fleeing war and poverty. This is why I did the surgery sponsored for Seawatch, a German charity that runs lifesaving search and rescue operations for refugees in the Mediterranean, saving lives that the governments of Europe refuse to save. Every life is worth saving.
I want to encourage more people to consider becoming living organ donors. It’s life saving for another person while being only a relatively minor inconvenience to you. The support given by the NHS is fantastic. If not part of your liver, then maybe consider a kidney? A friend of mine recently donated one of his and he was back home the next day. I believe that if more people were aware that living organ donation was a possibility they would do it too. We are one body and we need one another. With the will to love we can save one another and build a better world.
Learn more about living liver donations