Northern Ireland

Daughter gives father kidney

Robert and Iilona
Image caption Robert Smyth and his daughter Iilona who is donating a kidney to her father

A Londonderry woman is to donate a kidney to her father, in a bid to bring his 40-year battle with renal illness to an end.

Iilona Neilson and her father Robert Smyth will go through with the operation on 10 March.

The 73-year-old Eglinton business man said he was looking forward to "a whole new lease of life".

"It'll be wonderful not to be hooked up to a machine for five hours every other day," he said.

"I've been ill all my life really and in 2004 they told me I needed the transplant and I was put on the list.

"At times I was so ill they took me off it because you have to be healthy to go ahead with the operation. So it's only recently I have built up my strength and am in a fit enough condition to have the transplant."

Several family members went for tests to see if they were a donor match for Robert. His daughter's husband was a good match, but after further tests it was discovered he wasn't suitable. That's when Robert's daughter Iilona stepped forward.

"Her kidney is an almost perfect match, but she comes from good stock!" he joked.

"It's hard to say how I feel about it. I think she's' wonderful at her age to actually make the sacrifice to give me one of her kidneys. I haven't asked for it, she volunteered".

New lease of life

As for Iilona, she said she hoped someone in the family would do the same for her, if she was in a similar position.

"Initially other people offered a kidney, but one by one it didn't happen and I knew in my heart that it was coming to me, dad didn't ask I offered," she said.

"I watched him go to dialysis every other day and it's great that keeps him alive, but it's limiting, it's a bit like a prison sentence.

"I just thought 'you are on a slow path to death' and you can't really put a value on being able to give someone another 15 years of life."

Guilt over kidney

Robert said he felt "guilty about taking a kidney from someone half his age", but his consultant put things into perspective for him.

"He said this has nothing to with age, it's all about love," he said.

"If someone loves you enough to donate a kidney, be gracious enough to accept it and be thankful for it".

So has the looming transplant operation changed the relationship between father and daughter in any way? Robert says not.

"I think she's brilliant, but I always thought she was brilliant," he said.

But Iilona said she has noticed a change.

"I think he's a lot nicer to me and if it doesn't last I'll go looking for my kidney back!".

The transplant operation is scheduled for 10 March, the day before World Kidney Day. Both father and daughter are keen to highlight the importance of considering becoming organ donor.

"If people have a chance they should come along to the kidney isolation unit at Altnagelvin hospital on 10 March and see what life is like for those awaiting a transplant," Robert said.

"Talk to the nurses and members of the Renal Support Group and you can see what it's like to have to lie in bed hooked up for four-plus hours, it will make you think.

"The government had a chance to go with an opt-out rather than an opt-in donor scheme, but they didn't and I think it's a much better idea. I would like to see that changed."

And that is something his daughter strongly agrees with.

"It's recycling personified," she said.