Son saved by mom's kidney

Chris Hammond and his mother, Lenora, who donated a kidney to her son.

Chris Hammond and his mother, Lenora, who donated a kidney to her son.

Published Aug 31, 2016

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Cape Town - As Organ Donor Awareness Month draws to a close, a Pinelands family are celebrating a mother and son’s triumph over kidney failure and breast cancer.

In 2010, Lenora Hammond gave her son Christopher a kidney, and was diagnosed with cancer six months later. Both have fought their illnesses and gone on to excel - Lenora as the chairwoman of the Amabele Belles breast cancer survivors’ Dragon Boat Racing team, and Chris in the 2016 World Championships for karate.

Chris, 21, was born with renal failure. A blockage caused his bladder to become distended and damaged the development of his kidneys.

“His right kidney had reasonable functioning, enough for a young boy,” Lenora said. “It lasted him until he was 14.”

At 14, Christopher either needed a new kidney or had to start with dialysis. Family members did blood tests to see if they were a donor match. Lenora was the best option.

Lenora was in Groote Schuur Hospital for the harvest surgery, while Christopher waited for his new kidney in Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

“You go in completely healthy and go out very sore,” she said, “Whereas the recipient goes in very sick, and comes out ultimately healthy.”

It took Lenora three months to recover enough that she could walk without pain. But for Chris, the transplant was just the beginning of a year of pain and trauma as the graft kidney failed to kick in.

“His native kidney was down to two or three percent already,” Lenora said. “He looked absolutely skeletal. I could hear him screaming in his ward.”

It was a shock for Chris, who had gone into the transplant feeling positive.

“I had no idea there was going to be so many complications,” he said.

“I was in and out of hospitals that whole year. It was horrible going through all that, the pain was quite severe.”

Finally, the graft kidney kicked in, and Chris has gone from strength to strength ever since. He had been about to grade for his black belt in karate before the transplant, and while being off his feet for a year was a setback, he slowly clawed his way back to fitness.

“Six years later, I have a lot more energy. I love sport, I love swimming,” Christopher said. “Before my transplant I never felt like doing anything. Now I don’t hesitate to do things. Most of the time I forget I’m even a transplant patient.”

He competed in his first World Championships in 2012, two years after the transplant. He has since been to the 2014 World Champs, the 2015 European Champs and earlier this year he placed fourth at the 2016 World Championships.

“Who knows how long this graft kidney will last for? I will need another transplant, but I try not to stress about it. I know the time will come, but for now I’m happy.”

The transplant marked a massive change in Lenora’s life too.

“Life began to take a semblance of normality, until I had a routine mammogram and got a breast cancer diagnosis,” she said.

She was 100 percent healthy before the harvest surgery, but six months later had to undergo a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

“I would say the physical trauma to my body possibly triggered the cancer cells to multiply because my body was in such a state emotionally and physically,” Lenora said.

“I’m completely at peace with that, and I’m just so grateful that I was able to give Christopher what he needed.”

She recently completed treatment for a return of the cancer, which came back at the beginning of last year.

Lenora said donating a kidney to her son forged a powerful connection between them. “We had a very special bond from very early on,” she said.

Christopher echoed her sentiment.

“It’s made my relationship with my mom a lot stronger,” he said. “I know this sounds corny, but I have a piece of her in me. We have quite a special connection.”

The family is hoping that medical technology will have a permanent cure for Christopher in the future, thanks to his younger brother Calvin.

“When Calvin was born, we harvested his umbilical cord blood stem cells,” Lenora said. “Our absolute dream would be if they can make Christopher a kidney from his brother’s stem cells. You never know what could happen in five to 10 years from now.”

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Cape Argus

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