Some wives struggle to think of what presents to buy their husband for Christmas. But Carol Hale, from Chorley, has given husband Frank the greatest gift of all this festive season by giving him one of her kidneys. AASMA DAY talks to the couple to hear their amazing true-life story.
As the song goes, ‘We all want some figgy pudding’ – but for Frank Hale, Christmas pudding has been off the menu for almost a decade, as he has battled kidney failure.
But this Christmas Day, Frank will be tucking into festive fayre with relish, after being given a new lease of life by wife Carol, who gave him one of her kidneys.
The couple, who have been married for 43 years and have two children and four grandchildren, are delighted at the success of the procedure, and even though it is still early days, they feel ready to take on the world.
Carol, 64, says: “I never had any doubts, and knew I would do anything I could to make life better for Frank.
“I did not want Frank to go on dialysis, as it would have been three times a week for around four hours at a time.
“We do everything together, and if Frank had gone on dialysis, we would not have been able to go on holiday together or even days out in this country, so donating one of my kidneys to Frank seemed the best decision all round. The transplant team explained that a person can live just as well with one kidney as they can with two.
“In fact, sometimes kidney donors live even longer than the rest of the population because of all the aftercare and regular check-ups they get.
“The transplant team explained I could change my mind at any point, but I did not waver once, as I was determined to do it for Frank.”
Frank, 69, admits he wasn’t initially keen on Carol giving him one of her kidneys, as he didn’t want her to put herself at risk for him.
He explains: “I was a bit reserved at first, and certainly didn’t jump at her offer.
“I love Carol, and I did not want anything to happen to her or to affect her life.
“All the way through, I kept telling her that if she wanted to change her mind, it wouldn’t matter a bit. But she refused to change it.”
Frank and Carol, who live in Chorley and met 49 years ago when they both worked in the same slipper factory in the town, first became aware of Frank’s kidney problems nine years ago.
Frank recalls: “I started feeling unwell, but being a typical man, I would think: ‘I’ll be all right in a bit’ and ignore it.
“I just felt tired and cold all the time, and I would wear a jacket or fleece in the house to keep warm even though it was summer.”
Carol remembers: “I knew something was wrong and for weeks I was pestering Frank telling him ‘you are not right’.
“I took matters into my own hands and made him a doctor’s appointment.”
Frank underwent blood tests and that same day, he was sent to Chorley and South Ribble Hospital. Doctors told him his iron levels were so low, they did not know how he was still standing on his feet.
His stomach was swollen with fluid, which had to be drained. However, it was discovered it had damaged his kidney. Frank recalls: “They rushed me to the Royal Preston Hospital where there was a team waiting to operate on me.
“They operated on my kidney while I was awake and they put lines and tubes in it to try and inflate it.
“Doctors told me that it was my prostate which had swollen and blocked my kidneys.
“They operated and shaved my prostate to make it smaller.”
After three weeks in hospital, Frank went home, but he was re-admitted after his kidneys became blocked again.
Frank says: “My kidneys slowly started deteriorating. At that point, they were functioning at just 16 per cent, but over the years they carried on deteriorating until they were only functioning at 11 per cent.”
Frank was under the care of the donor team at Royal Preston Hospital and specialists at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
When Carol was asked if she was prepared to donate a kidney to Frank for a live donor transplant, she was more than happy to do this.
However, when Carol was tested about five years ago, she was not a perfect match, so the transplant could not go ahead.
Carol remembers: “I was devastated when I found out I could not donate and I was crying. I so much wanted to help Frank and it was such a blow.”
However, thanks to medical advances, live donor transplants can now be carried out even when the potential donor is not a perfect match.
For the past year, the couple have been undergoing intensive tests, and the transplant finally went ahead at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Frank and Carol are now recovering at home. Carol was in hospital for five days and Frank was in for 10 days.
Carol says: “We are still a bit sore, but apart from that, we are absolutely fine.
“I had keyhole surgery and they took one of my kidneys and then they carried out surgery to give it to Frank.
“It is the best thing we have done.”
Kidney patients have to follow a restricted diet, and there are certain foods they cannot eat, such as bananas and tomatoes, which are high in potassium.
But more devastatingly for Frank, he has been unable to eat his favourite festive foods for years, such as Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies, as he has not been allowed to eat dried fruits.
However, this Christmas, he is looking forward to tucking into a large portion of pudding to make up for the years he has gone without.
Frank laughs: “I cannot wait to finally have Christmas pudding again, as I love it!
“I have already had some mince pies and Christmas cake and it has been wonderful having them again after so long.”
Carol adds: “As Frank was not having these Christmas treats, I was not having them either as I didn’t think it was fair.
“So I am looking forward to having them again too.”
Frank has already noticed a huge difference in his health since the transplant. He explains: “I feel really good in myself and feel like I have been given a new lease of energy.
“It is only now I am better and feel well that I realise how bad things had got.”
Frank and Carol, who have a son and daughter and four grandchildren, are looking forward to enjoying family life to the full once they have fully recovered from their surgery.
Frank says: “I am looking forward to having more energy for my grandchildren and being more active again.
“We can’t fly for 12 months, but we are looking forward to planning family holidays and enjoying life properly again.
“We really want to thank everyone involved with the transplant. The teams at Preston and Manchester have all been marvellous and deserve gold medals.”
Frank adds: “We have always said that if you put us in the ring together with Mike Tyson, we could even beat him, as long as we were together.
“So when I was diagnosed with kidney problems, we were determined that by sticking together, we could beat this.
“Even though it is still early days, with a bit of luck, we will be doing cartwheels soon!”