Many people who need organ transplants wait for years for a donor and sadly some die before receiving it.
But young Cape Town photographer David Ritchie, who has end-stage chronic kidney disease (CKD), considers himself lucky after his family members were found to be compatible for a kidney transplant to him, which will give him a chance to live longer.
Chronic kidney disease, also called chronic kidney failure, is the gradual loss of kidney function. The kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from the blood, which are then excreted in urine.
When chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and wastes can build up in your body.
In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, some people show few signs or symptoms and the disease may not become apparent until kidney function is significantly impaired.
Ritchie, who is a photographer at African News Agency, is due to have a transplant next month.
He was diagnosed with Renal Fanconi Syndrome, a rare kidney tubule function disorder that results in excess amounts of glucose, phosphorus salts, uric acid and amino acids being excreted in the urine.
Ritchie’s illness started when he was five years old. With Renal Fanconi Syndrome, the tubules in the kidney do not reabsorb small molecules, causing increased loss of electrolytes in the urine.
Although Ritchie’s kidneys have been slowly deteriorating, it was only in January this year that his doctor recommended that he have a transplant.
With only 10% of his kidney function left, symptoms such as nausea, anxiety, high blood pressure and extreme fatigue have become part of his everyday life.
He considers himself lucky that he didn’t struggle to find a donor.
“I feel so blessed, as there are so many kidney disease sufferers out there who have no donors lined up and have to wait years on dialysis for a cadaver donor,” said Ritchie.
“My fatigue became so bad that one day I fell asleep driving during working hours.
“There is no reprieve for the tiredness. You don’t look ill, so people don’t realise or understand,” he said.
The world observes Organ Donor Month in August. It’s a time used to raise awareness about organ donation.
According to the South African Medical Association, in 2017 the number of South Africans willing to donate organs was critically low, at 0.2% of the population, due to cultural and religious reasons.
Ritchie said both his mother and older brother, Stephen, were found to be compatible with him in the tests to determine if they could donate a kidney to him.
His medical team decided on his brother due to the advantages of having a young kidney.
“The support at this time is overwhelming.
“I had so many people willing to make such a big sacrifice.
“My whole family, as well as friends and colleagues, offered to test for compatibility.
“An 11-year-old son of a colleague of my mom’s even offered to give me one of his kidneys,” said Ritchie.
He said he was looking forward to having the transplant so that he could get his life back to normal.
“I will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of my life.
“That lowers one’s immune system, so I will have to be careful to stay away from sick people.
“But this operation is the most amazing gift - the gift of life.”
* For more information on organ donation, contact the Organ Donor Foundation on their toll-free line at 0800 22 66 11.