Eden’s Samantha Godfrey is publicly giving thanks this week.
She is thankful for every day of her life and especially thankful to her family, friends and the wider community.
Sam received a life-saving kidney transplant 12 months ago. The donor is her step-father and local truck driver Graham Thomsen, and Sam is thankful to her ‘dad’ most of all.
“I personally would like to give the biggest thankyou to the most selfless person I know, my Dad, who gave me the most amazing gift of all, my life. Thank you Dad, you will always be my hero,” Sam wrote last week in a letter to the editor. (See the full letter on page 2).
The transplant has transformed the life of the 40-year-old mother of three, who was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease when she was pregnant with her now 21-year-old daughter Marin.
In the period leading up to her transplant last year, Sam’s kidneys were so diseased they both had to be removed in separate operations called nephrectomies.
A normal adult kidney is around the size of a fist and weighs between 120 and 140 grams. Sam’s kidneys were massive, distorted and enlarged by so much cyst tissue that pathology on them struggled to find any ‘normal’ kidney tissue at all.
“The first kidney they removed weighed 1.5 kilos and the second one they removed weighed 3.5 kilos,” Sam said.
“When the tests came back from the removed kidney they said they couldn’t find any normal kidney tissue, it was just all cysts.”
Living with chronic kidney disease requires dialysis to clean the blood.
“In March of last year they said it was time to go and get a tube put in my stomach to do peritoneal dialysis, which you can do at home.
You do it every four hours. You put in fluid and then you drain it out later on. It takes out all the impurities. You’ve got to be very hygienic.
“I wasn’t on it for very long (till April). Then they decided to take my first kidney out.
“I had it done in Canberra. It was pretty horrific. They cut me in a different spot to what they would normally do because the kidney was so large.
“After that I had to have a tube put into my chest that goes into your heart for hemodialysis. The blood goes straight through the machine to be cleaned. It takes four hours and has to be done every two days. It was horrific, I hated it.
“I found the peritoneal dialysis really gentle whereas the hemodialysis I found very harsh,” Sam said.
Some of Sam’s hemodialysis was done at Bega Hospital where she met many other Bega Valley people also undergoing dialysis.
“My days were Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
“There were lots of people having dialysis. I still keep in contact with one young girl. You don’t want to lose contact. You just wish they could have the same outcome,” Sam said.
Once Sam had healed from the first nephrectomy, she was able to return to peritoneal dialysis and travel to Sydney to organise a date for the transplant, and for her second kidney to be removed.
“I went up to Sydney, to Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) to have that one done. I was driving within a fortnight. It was just totally different. I think I felt 100 per cent when they (both kidneys) were gone. Having something so poisonous in my body used to make me feel nauseous.
“With both kidneys were gone it was back to hemodialysis up in Bega every two days.”
While Sam was enduring her ordeal supported by her mum Kaye and her dad, daughter Marin was back at home with dad Joe looking after her brother’s, 16-year-old Jordan and 11-year-old Kaynan.
“When we were away Marin would stay home and be ‘mum’ and do everything. Marin is a wonderful daughter, truly special,” she said.
When the big day came for her transplant, Sam and her dad underwent six hours of surgery apiece, one in the morning to remove one of Graham’s kidneys, and one in the afternoon and into the evening for Sam to receive the precious gift.
Graham’s kidney removal proved life-changing for him. A self-confessed anti-organ donor prior to 2012 (see Graham’s story on this page), he is now a strong advocate for others to change their thinking and sign up to become organ donors.
But the person whose life has changed most is Sam’s.
“I woke up from surgery and I just wanted to run around the hospital. I had so much energy. I kept looking at my hands. I said to my mum ‘I can’t believe the colour of them’. Before the transplant I was an orangey –yellow colour. To this day I still look at my hands in wonder,” Sam said.
“I was really excited to do that surgery. I was one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t living with (kidney failure) as long as a lot of other people have. There is a local lady that had a transplant six months before me. She had been on dialysis for seven years. That’s a long, long time. I count my blessings every day.”
A year on, Sam has decided it’s time to share her story, publicly thank all those people who helped her in both big and small ways to become well again, and hopefully help more people to think about becoming organ donors.
“I especially want to thank Mum and Dad for everything they did for all of us. It’s really hard to sit down with Dad and just say ‘thank you’ because how does ‘thank you’ cover it?
“And I want to thank Neville Bobbin (Bobbin’s Transport). Neville made it possible for Dad to have time off to have constant testing done and organised a huge fund raiser that paid for our accommodation in Canberra for three months. Neville has the biggest heart of anyone I know.
“If sharing my story makes one person even think about organ donation it would just make my day. Just to think the people that I’ve met and seen along the way have a better chance of life would be amazing.
“If you are going to save someone’s life, it’s worth it isn’t it?”
The family still has challenges ahead. Son Jordan has recently been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, and there is a possibility he may require a transplant down the track. His dad Joe, is on ‘reserve’ as the most likely donor if that happens.
“When it came to donors Joe and I agreed we would keep him for Jordan- just in case. We are seeing a genetic counsellor soon and hopefully it won’t be necessary. But you would do anything for your children, wouldn’t you?” Sam says.
Sam’s parents Graham and Kaye Thomsen agree.