A special bond
When Guernseyman Ollie Power received the devastating news that his kidneys were failing, his sister Krystal stepped forward as a donor. Almost a decade on from a successful life-saving transplant operation, he is now living a full and happy life. Jo Le Page asked him about the experience
AT THE age of 32, Ollie Power found himself in a serious life-or-death situation.
It all began when he started noticing blood in his urine, especially when he had a cold or was feeling under the weather. Even though he was seeing GPs at that time, nothing untoward was found.
He then started getting terrible headaches in 2010. One morning at work he started vomiting and rushed to see a doctor, who found his blood pressure was dangerously high.
In 2012 he collapsed and was rushed to hospital for tests before being air lifted to London. Just before his birthday he was told that one kidney was failing and the other was struggling to work properly, meaning that his overall kidney function was just 25%.
The advice was to look for a donor, although they wouldn’t do a transplant until his kidney function dropped to 10%. Ollie was relieved when his sisters offered to help.
He was given medication to maintain his health. From then it took about a year and a half for his health to deteriorate. His kidney function dropped to 8% after a flu-type illness. Specialists decided now was the time and within two weeks he was on the hospital bed being prepped for surgery.
Ollie’s sister Krystal was a match and he had his operation in April 2014.
I asked Ollie a few questions about his thoughts and feelings about this traumatic time...
Was this a terrifying experience for you?
At times it was and at times it wasn’t. I think I was quite anxious, then it would come and go. There were times I would worry loads, then times I would think, ‘I need to stay positive’. In any serious situation, when people have cancer or any serious disease you just have to stay as positive as possible. It was a scary experience. With Krystal being there and my family supporting me, I knew there was a very good chance that this was all going to work out, thankfully. Some people haven’t got that option.
At the time, were you worried that you might not be able to go back to boxing, a sport that you love?
I did ask the doctors if I would be able to do any competitive sport again, but I was 34/35 at the time, so I was already at the end of sport competing age and had bad ankles anyway. I sparred with a couple of quite experienced boxers after my transplant but it was no body shots, it was all head shots, which didn’t really work as not only was I quite rusty, I was sparring with decent guys and you’re just getting punched all over the place.
I now coach elite boxers, professionals. I trained Bradley Watson for a short while. I adapted my style of coaching so I don’t get hit in the stomach and it works, so I have kept my focus on that.
I’m keeping as healthy as possible. I have a balanced diet but when you first have your transplant you’re very focused on ‘I’ve got to eat berries and every super food I can think of’, whereas now I still do the superfoods and everything but I’ve got a sweet tooth. I still do try to avoid salt on my food and have got better at cooking so I can prepare things how I want them to be. I don’t really like takeaways anymore – I prefer my own cooking.
Do you have to be careful of alcohol consumption? How often are you checked to see if both kidneys are still operating at a good level?
There were no drinking restrictions. Three or four weeks after my operation, the hospital rang me at the hotel where I was staying to say I could drink something other than water and said I could go for a pint if I wanted to. I went down to the pub at Vauxhall and had a few pints and watched some football. The hotel was supervised by nurses. I went back half cut and felt like a naughty school child, which is quite funny when I look back now.
I think the only restriction they mentioned was to watch your consumption of gin, but I don’t even drink gin, so that was OK.
Neither of my original kidneys is still operating – they are like prunes in my back now. One kidney is operating in my stomach, which is where they put it and that is still operating well. It generally operates at 75%, which is great, so I feel good.
They told me the kidney should last about 14 years and it has been eight or nine years now. There are people who have had a transplanted kidney for 30-35 years though, so hopefully it goes for that long.
The opt-out option is now in place in the UK (where people are automatically signed up as donors after their death, unless they choose to opt out) so there’s now a better chance of me getting a kidney should anything go wrong in the future.
Long may it continue that I am feeling relatively healthy and well. I just don’t allow myself to put too much weight on really in case that time ever comes, because you need to lose weight to get a kidney transplant. You lose weight when you’re in kidney failure anyway, but at the same time I generally want to keep as healthy as possible, drink as much water as I can. I always have a bottle of water with me, I drink two or three litres a day in the summer and a bit less in the winter.
Was it uncomfortable asking your family to get tested for you?
When I was diagnosed, I was given a DVD that explains everything so that you don’t have to. They just said ‘give these out, if people want to watch them they can, if they don’t they don’t have to’. I showed my family, even those who I knew couldn’t give me a kidney. I must have watched it about six or seven times with different people and that left the ball in their court.
Krystal and Sammy came forward. I think my brothers came forward too. My sisters were both tested as they were a better match. I didn’t necessarily have to ask people I just had to hand over a DVD.
How did you feel heading into theatre? Was it a mix of nerves, gratitude and relief to be there?
Heading into theatre was a weird experience because I hadn’t been in theatre before and it felt quite eerie. I just thought, ‘let’s just get in there’.
I think Krystal had a panic attack. They would ask her questions like ‘have you been forced to offer this kidney?’, things like that which were down to her to answer, nothing to do with me. Krystal did it willingly, but she did have a panic attack and they asked if she was OK.
She still wanted to go ahead with it. They gave her some gas and she was fine. She woke up in the same condition I was, zonked out on painkillers.
After the transplant I couldn’t sit up. I have a huge scar across my abdomen about 12 inches long where they opened me up – it was a bit like a C-section for a woman, I guess.
They said to me the day after my transplant, ‘you’ve got to get up today’. The day after I sat up, then the day after that they wanted me to walk. It was horrible. The pain was ridiculous.
The first thing I did was walk to Krystal and give her a big hug. It makes me emotional thinking about it now. It was a lovely moment. I hugged her and thanked her.
I felt quite zonked by the painkillers. I stopped taking them after a few days as I was getting headaches. After four or five days it was the London Marathon and I was taking my steroids and tablets. The steroids were kicking in. I got up as I felt I needed to walk and felt great. I could already feel the difference in how unwell I had been feeling compared to now. All of a sudden I perked straight up and went for a walk, phoned my dad and told him how well I felt, chatted to my mum on the phone. It was great. Within a few days I was feeling back to normal again.
But it was a rocky road getting back to complete health – it took about three months, going backwards and forwards to the hospital making sure everything was OK. I had to have a biopsy at one stage because I had a water infection, had to have tissue removed from the kidney, which wasn’t pleasant. A few ups and downs but it was a fairly straightforward recovery over a period of a few months and then kind of back to normal.
Every year you acknowledge your kidney anniversary and how far you have come in your personal life, always realising all that you wouldn’t have had. The love and gratitude towards Krystal must be immense
Krystal and I always have a tight relationship because of that. As brother and sister we have always been close. This is something that we share. It bonds us. I surprised her for her 30th birthday with a weekend in Guernsey and she was really overwhelmed by it all. We have a very close relationship.
Ollie has gone on to run his own carpentry business, Power Interiors, as well as coaching boxing. He has moved from Guernsey to the UK and is married with two children.
N THE year 2012 we had received the bad news that my brother Ollie had been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in his early 30s, which was a devastating shock to us all as a family, especially due to the fact he was such a healthy young man until this.
It was also in the very late stages and he had been told he would need a kidney transplant. By this point I believe his kidneys were both functioning at about 18-20%.
As a sister, I was broken. I didn’t want to lose my brother to this horrific disease and I straight away told him he can have one of mine if I was a match. My sister also offered too, so we were both tested. The results came back and my blood group was the same as Ollie’s. However, after some more blood tests on my brother it was determined that Ollie’s blood had some antibodies that might reject my kidney so further testing was required to cross-match the blood, which thankfully came back insignificant. Most of these tests were done in Guernsey.
It was not long after that all the other tests started for the kidney work-up and meeting all the relevant team. This happened over about the course of a year. Over this time Ollie started to become fragile. He didn’t look like himself, he lost so much weight and his skin was a grey pale colour, almost like there was no life left in him, and finally we were given a date for the surgery: 9 April 2014.
Ollie did so well at keeping his kidney function at a stable rate over this time and needed very little dialysis right up until before the transplant.
About six weeks before the operation, I travelled to Guy’s Hospital in London with my husband and my brother, leaving our two children at the time with the grandparents for a couple of days. During this time in London I had a pre-admission screening, pre-admission group, donor pre-clerking and a final cross match for the big day.
There were a lot of tests involved for both me and Ollie, but I think we just took every day as it came.
It never really hit me what I was doing until the morning of 9 April at 9am when I got to say my goodbyes to Ollie and my husband and I was wheeled down to theatre. It was then that I started to have a bit of a panic attack as reality had hit as what was about to happen. I can just remember being very tearful and struggling to breathe.
All I remember was the nurse saying to me, ‘I’m just going to give you something to calm your nerves, my love’, and then the next thing waking up on the ward. It was all a bit of a blur until the next day as I had been pumped full of drugs.
I remember waking up the next day with my husband by my side and I really wanted to see my brother. My husband got me in the wheelchair and the nurse took us over to Ollie. It was fantastic – his face was all bright pink again, like he had the life back in him, and surprisingly he seemed more awake and alert than I did. Emotions were so high.
I leaned over the bed and gave him a cuddle. I was so incredibly happy that the operation had gone to plan and Ollie’s body was accepting my kidney, but at the same time the pain in my abdomen was crippling and we were both exhausted.
After two weeks I was able to return to Guernsey, however Ollie had to stay in London for a further six weeks and I remember feeling sad to leave him but knew he was in the right place.
When our plane touched down in Guernsey I felt the tears roll down my eyes and felt absolute relief to be back home. Upon coming through arrivals, my mum was stood there with the two children and I remember dropping to my knees and breaking down with tears of happiness, squeezing them tightly, which also set my mum off in floods of tears.
From the day Ollie received my kidney, he has done his utter best to this day to look after it and keep it healthy and I respect him so much for that. I now have yearly check-ups and the one kidney that I have now is at 100% function, like it always has been.
Nothing has changed since having the transplant, only that we now have twin boys – I fell pregnant about a year after so our family grew a bit bigger and also my brother now has a wife and two beautiful children himself and I love the fact that he has a good healthy life again now.
It doesn’t affect my daily life. I can live a normal life like anyone else does with two kidneys and I don’t feel any different to what I did before I’m just one organ less than what I was, all for a good cause.
Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list for a deceased donor and some people have to live years on machines doing the work for their kidneys, which must be incredibly debilitating and tiring. It was a blessing that we were a match and Ollie can go on to live a relatively normal life as some people are less fortunate.
Ollie always makes me aware of how much he appreciates what I did and it has brought us very close. But I feel like anyone else would do the same thing for their family in difficult circumstances. That’s what being a family is – it’s being part of each other.