People across Oxfordshire are being encouraged to consider live organ donations after a father's selfless Christmas gift of one of his healthy kidneys to his sick son.
Three days after Christmas Day, Simon Pont had his kidney transplanted into his son Robert at the Churchill Hospital's Oxford Kidney Unit after flying back from Canada.
Robert, who lives and works in Abingdon, was diagnosed with stage three chronic kidney disease in 2012 at the age of 27 despite feeling reasonably healthy.
Simon was ready ‘on day one’ to offer his son a healthy kidney, and having moved to London Ontario with his wife Laura in 2007, he immediately flew to the UK for blood tests at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, to find out if his kidney would be a good match for his son.
Back home in Canada, London Health Sciences Centre called Simon in for a second test to confirm what the Churchill Hospital had discovered – that only an identical twin could have been a better match for Robert.
With a potential live donor waiting in the wings, Robert was able to continue with his life and work for a further five years, his condition managed with medication and a special diet under the care of Oxford Kidney Unit.
However, in 2017 his condition began to worsen, and his kidney function was barely six or seven per cent of what could be called normal meaning a transplant was the best option.
Robert and Simon were assessed and interviewed separately and together, to ensure the decision to go ahead with a live donation was one they both fully understood and supported, and Simon prepared for the surgery with a routine of exercise and a healthy plant-based diet.
The transplant took place on Thursday, December 28, at the Churchill Hospital, under the teams of Prof Peter Friend, Simon’s surgeon, and Mr James Gilbert, who operated on Robert.
Life for Simon with one kidney is expected to be ‘business as usual’, and all being well he and Laura will be flying home to Canada in February.
“This has been a spectacular example of two health systems working as one,” Simon said.
“Everything the Churchill requested in the way of tests or information the Centre in Ontario provided immediately. Three and a half thousand miles made no difference.
"While I am here I am under the care of Oxford University Hospitals; the moment I step off the plane in Canada, I am in the hands of London Health Sciences Centre.
“I cannot speak highly enough of the dedication, compassion and professionalism exhibited by the Churchill Hospital medical, surgical and nursing teams.
"They helped me through the emotional and physical journey to give my son a new lease of life.
“Their cooperation with their Canadian counterparts gave my son another chance. To all who made this possible, thank you.”
For Robert, it is another landmark in a long relationship with the Trust that runs Oxford’s hospitals.
Born at the John Radcliffe Hospital in February, 1985, nine weeks early and weighing only one pound six and a half ounces, he was cared for by our newborn intensive care team for several months.
Five days after his surgery last month, Robert wrote: “I cannot begin to imagine how my life would have been, had the two renal teams (UK and Canada) not worked as hard as they did.
"But the biggest thanks of all goes to my Dad. Without him none of this would have been possible.
“My family can't thank you all enough. To everyone who sees this, just think about what you can do to help save someone’s life.”
Robert and Simon’s surgery came at the end of a very special 50th year for the Churchill Hospital’s kidney unit.
In the past 50 years, more than 4,000 transplants have been performed by the unit, transforming the lives of kidney patients and their families.
More than 6,000 patients have been treated by dialysis for renal failure, some of whom have received transplants from their relatives or friends, or deceased donors whose families have given permission for their organs to be used.
The unit provides a renal failure and transplant service for six of its surrounding counties and has co-provider units in five hospitals outside of Oxford.
Kidney unit renal consultant Dr Chris Winearls said: “Oxford Kidney Unit is an amazing success story – a great tribute to its founders, Dr Desmond Oliver, Prof John Ledingham and in 1975 Prof Sir Peter Morris, and all the staff who have worked there.
"It continues to be a centre of excellence for patient care, teaching and research.”
A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant said: “Donating an organ to someone in need is an incredibly generous thing to do.
"Living donor transplantation is highly successful, and family, friends and strangers can all donate.”
By coincidence, London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.
Simon has made it his mission to spread the word about live organ donation and the difference it can make to people’s lives.
As well as doing interviews on Canadian radio and television, he has set up a Facebook page, BecomeANewLiveDonor.
Find out more about live organ donation at: www.organdonation.nhs.uk/about-donation/living-donation, and find out more about the work of the Oxford Kidney Unit at www.ouh.nhs.uk/oku.