An 83-year-old man has achieved a double first by becoming the oldest living kidney donor in the UK and simultaneously becoming the oldest person in the country to give a kidney to a stranger.
Nicholas Crace, a widower and former charity director from Overton, Hampshire, is one of a rare group of people known as “altruistic donors” – someone who gives a kidney to a person they do not know, but who is on the NHS waiting list for an organ.
Mr Crace said: “I knew that 7,000 people are waiting for a kidney and that one person dies almost every day while waiting.
“I couldn’t have lived with myself with the knowledge that I had had the chance of changing someone’s life and turned it down.”
The operation, which took three hours, was carried out at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth.
Tests had previously revealed that Mr Crace’s kidneys functioned as well as those of someone in their forties. “The surgeon congratulated me on the perfection of my kidneys. In fact, given a halter, he would gladly have led me into the winner’s enclosure at the Smithfield Show to have a rosette pinned on.”
Nicholas’s wife, Brigid, died in the summer of 2011. He had looked after Brigid, with the help of carers, since she had had a stroke in 2005 and this had kept him fully occupied. So he found that he had plenty of time to fill.
All his life he had been a blood donor, reaching 57 donations, but donors over the age of 70 cannot be accepted. He thought of offering to give bone marrow, but here the cut-off age is 40. So his thoughts turned to the possibility of giving one of his kidneys.
“I cannot remember quite what put the idea of being a living kidney donor into my mind,” he says, “but in September 2011 I thought that it might be worth investigating. After all, I was in good health, had no dependents and had plenty of time at my disposal."
“I would have been very disappointed if I had been turned down.
"I was ideally placed to be a donor after the hospital had established that I was fit and had excellent kidneys. One can live perfectly happily with only one kidney – in fact some people are born with only one.”
Consultant Surgeon Sam Dutta, who performed the operation, said: “We know from numerous studies that a living donor kidney performs better, works quicker and lasts longer than one from a deceased donor. All the detrimental factors related to being on dialysis are completely taken care of by a good functioning kidney. An altruistic donor coming forward is an amazing thing for us. The recipient just gets a new lease of life."
Nicholas said it was an easy decision. “Giving a small part of me to someone else will make little difference to my life but a huge difference to someone else’s – it was an easy decision for me to make. I was lucky to be in a position to help someone else less fortunate than myself.”