Behind-the-scenes at Wales' busiest transplant unit

By Andrea Byrne

As a patron of the charity Kidney Wales, I felt incredibly particularly privileged to be invited to film on the Transplant Unit at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

The invite came ahead of a special Wales at Six live from the ward to mark the day organ donation laws change in Wales. It’s a first for the UK and a poignant day for all those involved in making it happen.

It was eye-opening to visit the country’s busiest transplant unit and find out what it means in practice for the medics involved and - most importantly - the patients.

We arrived to be introduced to Stuart Gregory - a former councillor. He had been on dialysis for four and a half years.

The day before we met him he got the all important call he’d been waiting for from the Transplant Unit. He was getting a new kidney.

Well it was just amazing. I actually couldn’t sleep yesterday. I was up about half past four. I cleaned my teeth my teeth and the phone rang.

Stuart Gregory, transplant recipient

Mike Stephens, a Consultant Transplant Surgeon - and the man who operated on Stuart - has been working on this unit in Cardiff since it opened in 2011.

When we spoke he had two transplants booked in for that afternoon and he’d performed three the previous day. I asked him what sort of reaction he gets from patients when they find out there’s a suitable donor.

It’s usually a mixture of excitement and apprehension. If you can offer a patient back their lives, it allows them to work, to travel, it allows them to live.

Mike Stephens, Consultant Transplant Surgeon

There are over 200 patients waiting for a transplant on this unit alone in Cardiff. Some will wait months, some will wait years.

Some may never get that call. But, of course, for every transplant patient’s story there is another side, and that’s the donor’s.

A few floors away, and we're on the intensive care unit. Happily, patients here make their recoveries and are sent on their way home.

But when a patient isn't getting better, it's this team - who must broach the subject of organ donation with their family.

I met with Chris Hingston from the Critical Care Unit and asked him about those difficult conversations.

I wanted to know whether families should be concerned that there may be an added pressure with the new laws coming into play.

I don’t think there’ll be any added pressure. I think the new legislation is actually giving people more choice.

Chris Hingston, Critical Care Unit

When I return to the Transplant Unit, it’s visiting time. And for Stuart and his wife Pat, that sentiment couldn’t ring more true.

Oh it will change loads as I had to go most places on my own. If I wanted a break I’d have to go with a friend and he’d stay at home.

Pat Gregory, Stuart's wife

I hope when I get a chance, I understand you can get in touch with the donor’s family and tell them. It would be nice to know what sort of person it was.

Stuart Gregory, transplant recipient

Organ donation will, naturally, pose the most difficult of questions at the hardest of moments. But what a gift it can be - to be able to save a life from losing one.

My thanks to the staff and patients at the University Hospital of Wales for giving me a glimpse of the extraordinary and humbling life-saving and life-changing work which is happening every day.

Watch as Andrea went behind-the-scenes on the transplant unit:

You can read more about the changes to the law on the Organ Donation Wales website.