Philippa is Northern Ireland’s 2,000th kidney transplant patient

Philippa Holmes with husband Peter, her kidney donor.
Philippa Holmes with husband Peter, her kidney donor.

A Ballinderry couple has made medical history with Philippa Holmes becoming Northern Ireland’s 2,000th kidney transplant patient – with her husband Peter the ‘live’ donor.

The double operation was performed at the City Hospital on Tuesday, September 29, with one of Peter’s kidney removed in the morning and transplanted into his wife around lunchtime.

Philippa (39) has diabetes and during medical treatment three years ago, it was discovered that her kidneys were working on just 30 per cent capacity – it went down to 11 per cent by the time of the operation.

“But I never needed dialysis,” said Philippa. “Kidney failure in most cases is debilitation, but despite the kidney problems, I felt almost normal. I was able to continue with my work at the Danske Bank in Belfast.” Dialysis virtually takes over the life of a kidney patients. Normally, they have to undergo dialysis three days a week at a specialist unit, or home dialysis throughout the night. But Philippa was able to work until the previous Thursday before she and Peter entered the City for the Tuesday operations.

Peter’s kidney was removed at 8am, it was prepared for Philippa (it had turned from pink to almost white in the medical process), and when it as inserted into Philippa around 1pm, it turned a healthy pink as it was connected.

“It means I now have three kidneys, although the other two aren’t functional and Peter has just the one!” said Philippa. “He ordered me to look after his kidney! People can function totally normally on one kidney.”

In the intervening three weeks, they have temporarily moved to Cranfield and its clean atmosphere to avoid infection, although they travel to the City twice a week for check-ups – “so far, so good”.

The decision for a transplant was taken in January, and the ‘live’ option was considered the best for Philippa. Her parents Ted and Nan Mason volunteered, but they were not suitable, and then it was discovered that Peter satisfied the criteria.

He is also 39 – there is just a month between them – and he works as a service engineer. In the middle of the trauma they are in the throes of building their own home at Ballinderry, and are looking forward to moving in.

“They hope to be back to work – and back to normal – in January.

Said Philippa, “I would like to thank the staff of the City - those involved in my journey from being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease to the transplant – the surgeons took a short break between operations.

“Nearly everyone knows about deceased donations and people seem to think that ‘live’ matches have to be perfect. But Peter’s was just two out of the seven criteria and things seem to be going really well.”

The City is deeply proud of the 2,000th transplant and it has featured on radio. It shows the tremendous strides since the first one in 1968 under the legendary Dr Mark McKeown. And on September 13, the hospital fell just one short of the world record with five transplants in a day.

The famous tower block houses the unit, as well as the excellent cancer unit, and Peter and Philippa will be eternally grateful.

Now, they are hoping to start the family they have longed for.