The ripple effect of organ donation

Family of five stands in front of Sydney city landscape
Stephanie Chapman on holiday in Sydney with her husband John, and children Hamish (9), Clancy (5) and Amelia (11)
August 1, 2017

“An enormous gift with a far-reaching impact.”

That’s how Stephanie Chapman describes the kidney she received from a deceased donor at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Stephanie lives on a farm in Bruce Rock, about three hours east of Perth, with her husband and three children.

Stephanie was diagnosed as an infant with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a hereditary condition that had also affected her mother and grandmother.

“My grandmother began dialysis in her seventies, and mum was in her fifties when she had to start treatment,” Stephanie said.

“Mum had a transplant and is still going strong 14 years later.”

Steph was pregnant with her third baby and her kidneys had begun to fail, causing her son to be born prematurely at 31 weeks.

Her kidneys got gradually worse and she started dialysis in 2014.

“I was really unwell for a long time and was spending a lot of time in Perth, away from my family, for dialysis and treatment,” Stephanie said.

“The doctors decided a transplant was the only way I was going to be able to live a normal life again.”

Although Stephanie’s husband John was not a direct match for a transplant, he was desperate to help.

He started the process of becoming a kidney donor via the Paired Kidney Exchange Program, which matches the donor in an incompatible pair with a recipient in another pair.

He was still in ‘work-up’ when Stephanie got the call in 2015.

“It was 4.30am and we happened to be in Perth as we had come to take the kids to a musical,” said Stephanie.

“My phone rang and I was so nervous I pressed the ‘hang up’ button instead of the ‘answer’ button,” she laughed.

“Thankfully they called back and told me they had a kidney for me, and it was from a 33-year-old. I was 36. I couldn’t believe it.”

A few hours later, Stephanie was recovering in hospital after a successful transplant.

She underwent intensive clinical care for about six weeks, before finally being able to go home to Bruce Rock.

“I’m really lucky that I have a strong support network around me – my parents live in Perth so I was able to stay with them while I recovered while John looked after the kids,” Stephanie said.

“If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure what I would have done.

“The staff in the FSH Renal Unit are amazing too. I felt like we could call if we needed anything at all – they really made a huge difference.”

Stephanie now leads an active life, volunteers at the local school and has just taken up art classes.

In January this year, she and John took their children on holiday to Sydney – something she never thought possible a couple of years ago.

“Life is completely different now. I feel like a normal person with a really normal life, and I’m so grateful for that.”

Although life has returned to normal, Stephanie said she would never forget her donor.

“I think about this incredible gift I have been given at least once a day,” she said.

“Not only has this person given me the gift of a normal life, they have given my husband, my kids and my parents the precious gift of a wife, a mother and a child.

“There are no words to express the amount of gratitude I feel.”

Join the Australian Organ Donor Register today by visiting the DonateLife website (external site).