Gary’s gift of life

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CHATTERIS postie Gary Birch has made a special delivery to his cousin - one of his kidneys in a life-saving operation.

Now the 52-year-old former Chatteris Town footballer is hoping to raise awareness of the need for more organ donors.

Gary, who is determined not be branded a hero despite his selfless act to help his cousin Ian Picket, said he had never considered joining the national organ donor register.

However, after seeing just what an organ transplant can mean for someone suffering from a life-threatening illness, Gary is now keen to promote the register.

Ian (45), who is Gary’s first cousin, suffered kidney disease for the past 14 years and needed drugs to control his condition.

His kidney function was slowly failing and Ian was getting perilously close to needing dialysis when Gary and his younger sister Narene Chapman, also of Chatteris, both stepped in to offer one of their kidneys.

That was 12 months ago and initially the family was told it was not possible but further tests at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge changed that verdict.

From then on the trio were put through an array of tests to determine who would be the best donor and Gary was chosen.

“I didn’t think twice about it when I heard Ian needed a kidney, I just said I’d do it if I could,” explained Gary, who has a son Liam (15).

“Ian is family and you do things to help your family. To be honest I wasn’t worried about it at all. The doctors said thousands of people are walking around with two kidneys, but only have one that works.

“The worst bit wasn’t even having the operation - although I was sore afterwards - it was the MRI scan to check my kidneys to see which would be the best one for them to take, because I get claustrophobic and I didn’t like the feeling of being enclosed in the scanner,” said Gary.

But it was worth it when Gary sees just how much a new kidney has changed Ian’s life.

“He had to stay in hospital longer than me and had a few problems, but now he has got his life back. He can do things everyone else takes for granted like going out shopping,” said Gary, who underwent the operation on October 11 at Addenbrookes’.

Ian said: “There are no words to describe how grateful I am. I know Gary doesn’t want to be branded a hero, but he is to me. He has been through a lot to help me and so has his sister.

“I already feel a million times better. The biggest difference is I no longer feel cold all the time. Even in the summer I used to be wrapped in layers to keep warm,” explained Ian, from Chelmsford.

Ian was on the waiting list for a kidney but said the chances of getting an organ in that way as less likely simply because of the lack of donors.

He is also encouraging more people to put their names on the donor register, which means your organs can be used to help others if the worst happens.

“I’m lucky to have people like Gary and Narene in my family. Not everyone is that lucky and I would urge everyone to put their name down for the register. I cannot tell you what a difference a transplant makes to someone like me - it is quite simply life-saving,” added Ian.

To find out more about the organ donor register visit: www.uktransplant.org.uk