Two years ago, Tamzin-Leigh Bailey, 24, led a normal “healthy” life and was actively involved in singing and dancing. However, she suddenly became so ill she went into a vegetative state.
“My health deteriorated so fast I suddenly couldn’t do anything on my own. I couldn’t get up and walk and couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything.”
After she was taken to Groote Schuur, doctors found both her kidneys had shut down, and she needed to be dialysed immediately or, at best, get a kidney transplant.
“I was so sick that doctors said if I had been brought to hospital an hour later I would have died.”
Further tests on her kidneys found one of her kidneys was much smaller than the other and had “probably never worked effectively from birth”.
But thanks to the kidney transplant she had earlier this year, not only has Bailey regained her life, but she is engaged to be married to another kidney transplant recipient, Kobus Weideman who had his transplant as a teenager at Red Cross Children’s Hospital 12 years ago.
Weideman admits as a couple they have a good understanding “because we have something in common and have gone through the journey of renal failure and kidney transplant”.
After receiving a donated kidney from a relative, Bailey said she looked at life differently. “I’m more appreciative of life in general. I’m eight months post-dialysis now, and life feels great. Everything is going so well, and I’m living my life again. I have more energy, can exercise and I’m back to dancing."
Following the transplant, Bailey said she now realised even though she thought she was healthy as a teenager, “I now realise that I was not because I always had symptoms of kidney disease, but I was just not aware of all the symptoms".
Bailey and Weidman’s stories of adversity and triumph are receiving attention as August is known as national Organ Donor Awareness Month.
South Africa is a world leader in the field of organ transplantation. But, while the number of patients waiting for transplants continues to increase, the serious shortage of potential donors remains a great concern.
There are about 4 300 South African adults and children awaiting a life-saving organ and cornea transplant, but there are only two donors per million people a year in South Africa.
This number is a far cry from that in Spain, which has 40 donors per million people. One person has a potential to save seven lives.
The life of Jasper Eales of Llandudno was saved by organ donation. Last year the 29-year-old entrepreneur had a successful liver transplant at UCT Academic Hospital following years of living with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) – a chronic liver disease that slowly damages the bile ducts in the liver.
While Eales suppressed the progression of the disease with medication, two years ago he was told he needed an urgent liver transplant as there was little functionality of his liver.
“I remember the day I got a call that there was a donor liver for me. I had to leave everything immediately, including my business (furniture design business) which I had to hand over to my father to run. After the operation I spent seven days in isolation in ICU because it was such a high risk operation. There was a risk of infection because I was on heavy immune suppressants,” he said.
Exactly 15 months later, Eales has now got his groove back and is running his business. “In November I will be getting married, thanks to the liver transplant,” he said.
Heart failure for Eric Leeu, 27, saw him leaving his home province of KwaZulu-Natal to settle in Cape Town. After being transferred to the city by Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban, the father of one would spend another 10 months at Groote Schuur Hospital waiting for a heart.
“It was the longest wait for me because I was so ill with my body retaining water, but at the end it was all worth the wait.
“Before the transplant I couldn’t even wash my face, let alone getting out of bed, but now I’m enjoying life and am back to work.
“I’m well enough to take care of my son who was actually born the day I was admitted to hospital in KZN. I’m just full of gratitude,” he said.