Organ Donation Week: Preston twin sisters celebrate 10-year anniversary of life-saving operation

There’ll be a few clinks of champagne flutes this weekend as twin sisters mark 10 years since their successful kidney transplant at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Gill Kaczmarczyk and Jen Heaton, 54, live 200 yards apart in Penwortham, and were found to be a perfect match when Gill needed a new kidney on September 26th, 2011.

The mother-of-two now lives a full and active life but her life changed more than a decade ago when she was admitted to hospital with end-stage kidney failure after contracting Swine Flu.

Jen, of Broadoak Lane, and Gill, of Moorside Drive, are now closer than ever.

Twins Gill Kaczmarczyk and Jen Heaton celebrating the 10th anniversary of their kidney transplant, socially distanced, due to being clinically extremely vulnerable

Gill said: “Every morning I look at my scar in the shower and say thank you to my sister. I’ve got a bit of Jen inside me that helps me stay alive.”

Gill was overwhelmed with emotion in the days before her transplant, and praises staff on the ward.

At one point she recalls feeling that she didn’t want to go through with the operation.

“Jen and I have shared everything together, but it just felt like this is just too much,” said Gill.

Twins Gill Kaczmarczyk and Jen Heaton

“I can’t take this from her. I remember just wanting to run away, but the nurse just knew the right things to say.”

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Before contracting swine flu, Mrs Kaczmarczyk, a learning consultant, had lived with a chronic renal condition called IgA Nephropathy.

She managed it with long term medication, but she now feels fitter than ever.

The twins' incredible story was first told by the Lancashire Post 10 years ago

Gill, who lives with husband Steve, 58, and her two daughters Alyssia, 29, and Grace, 27, found the early days of recovery quite stressful. “I’d gone through this huge thing and all I wanted was to repay my sister by getting on with my life. But I picked up bugs so easily, and I started to feel like a burden when I kept getting ill.”

Jen, a GP, felt wonderful to have saved her sister’s life.

“It’s given me so much joy seeing my sister get her life back,” she said.

“She’s been able to travel and do things with her two girls,

“She’s no longer up all night being ill, struggling with tiredness and headaches.

“She’d really got her life back, until Covid.

Gill is currently shielding. She is on a high dose of immunosuppressants, which are needed so that her body doesn’t reject the kidney.

“The last time I was in a shop was on March 13th, 2020, and I really need a haircut. I look forward to being able to give my sister a big hug but for now we can only meet up in the garden,” she said

The sisters have always celebrated together, through christenings, graduations, and shared holidays abroad.

This weekend they will get together for a socially distanced shindig, as they mark 10 years since the operation.

Gill says: “We have so much to raise a glass to this weekend. My sister really is my hero.”

It is made even more special because this year it falls on Organ Donation Week.

Gill says: “I was lucky to have a match, but many people are reliant on strangers coming forward.

“Although the law has changed so that you must opt-out of the organ donor register, it’s still important to let your loved ones know that you wish to be an organ donor.

“The Leave Them Certain campaign is about having that slightly awkward conversation, just go for a walk and bring the subject up casually so your family knows your wishes in case anything happens to you.”

Jen, who returned to her job as a GP within eight weeks, said: “If you know someone who needs a transplant, please consider putting yourself forward.

“A lot of people are born with one kidney and don’t even know it. I just want people to be aware that it’s much safer and less painful than I ever imagined and the support you get is amazing.”