IT is often said people who marry give each other their hearts - but one Banbridge woman took that a step further when she successfully donated a kidney to her husband against odds of 50 million to one.
Marie Marks said she is now closer than ever to Stephen, her husband of 31 years since their back-to-back operations in November last year, which saw doctors remove one of her kidneys and successfully transfer it to the father-of-two, against huge odds.
Stephen had been living a normal life since his first kidney transplant in 1996, but two years ago the organ began to fail again and Stephen had to go back on dialysis for eight hours each night at home.
When the Larchwood family looked into the possibility of a second transplant they were alarmed at the shortage of donors, and it was then that Marie decided to check out if she was a match.
The statistics show how rare it is for two unrelated people to be suitable donors, but Marie said she was delighted to learn that, after 10 hours of blood and urine tests as well as scans and X-rays, she was an almost perfect match for her husband.
“We had spent all day at the City Hospital in Belfast and to be honest, I was expecting to be told I wasn’t a match and that, instead of donating to Stephen I would be put into a pool of donors,” said Marie.
“But when they said I matched Stephen in four out of six sections I was so happy.”
The couple were all set for their almost simultaneous operations at the hospital on November 31 but even then things were touch-and-go, said Marie.
“One of us had a slight cold, I can’t even remember who it was, but it meant they didn’t know if the operation could go ahead at all,” she said.
“So things were a bit unknown right up until the very last minute.”
After a two-and-a-half hour operation Marie was taken back to the ward and Stephen was wheeled down for four hours of surgery that would determine whether the kidney would transplant successfully.
Marie remembers taking tentative steps towards her husband’s hospital room the next day and the relief of seeing him sitting up - albeit in quite some pain - as they talked through the enormity of what had happened.
One month later, with relatively few complications but daily trips to the hospital for check-ups, Stephen and Marie sat down to Christmas dinner, cooked by their daughters Leeanne and Catherine, with a little help from granddaughters Chloe and Lauren.
“It’s the first time I can remember that ever happening,” laughed Marie, who said she even managed to get out for an exhausting trip to do some Christmas shopping ahead of the big day. “It was a very special day because of everything the family had been through. It had been an anxious time for my daughters seeing both of us go into hospital for major surgery so we were all so happy that everything went well.”
Marie, who works as purchasing manager in Nugents, and Stephen, who has just recently returned to work at McBurney Transport as a lorry driver, now plan to enjoy a Mediterranean cruise as they look to the future.
“I do believe it has brought us closer together. It was a worrying time as we didn’t know if the kidney would end up being rejected, but we are delighted everything has worked out. Stephen’s hospital visits are now just monthly rather than daily and things are looking up. It was all worth it.
“I joke with him sometimes that no matter where he is on his lorry driving trips he’s never really too far away from me these days!”
The experience is one Marie - who stresses that there are plenty of people out there who donate kidneys and deserve praise for what they’ve done - admits her family “might just have been lucky with” but she said she would strongly encourage anyone who can to sign up to the organ donor register.
Marie would like to thank the staff at the City Hospital who she said “couldn’t have been any better”, as well as family and friends who rallied round to support the couple through everything.
Having also become involved with Northern Ireland Kidney Research this year, Marie has asked that anyone interested in helping to organise or participating in a motorbike run to fund raise can contact her on 07886570076.