The first patient to receive a transplant at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted has thanked the team as he recovers at home
The Manchester Renal Transplant Unit at MRI, which is part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, reopened to patients in July since pausing operations in March, in line with national health guidance.
The unit provides a full range of kidney and pancreas transplant services for adults and children.
The first patient – Stephen Lim, 27, from Bolton received a kidney from a deceased donor, and is now recovering well thanks to the expertise of the multi-disciplinary team at the MRI.
Dr Afshin Tavakoli, consultant surgeon at Manchester Royal Infirmary and lead surgeon during Stephen’s transplant said: “It’s a great pleasure for our team to be able to get back to helping our patients with vital lifesaving transplants.
“Here at MRI we have one of the largest and busiest transplant units in the country, where we usually perform around 300 transplants a year. This is all thanks to our dedicated team who work incredibly hard for our patients across Great Manchester and the North West.
“Our team are excited to be back to work helping more patients like Stephen”
“Covid-19 safety measures meant that Stephen’s family were unfortunately not able to accompany him at the hospital, but we know how important it is to keep loved ones informed, so once we were finished with the operation our team gave them a call to let them know that it all went well.
Dr Helmi Saedon is a specialty trainee in transplant surgery and is involved in patients’ hospital journeys, in particular to ensure that they are supported through the transplant process. Helmi met with Stephen when he arrived at the hospital, made sure he was well informed and looked after, and has since been monitoring his progress.
Helmi said: “We’re all very glad that Stephen’s transplant went so well and that he’s now recovering nicely at home. His new kidney took well and he was fit to be discharged from hospital after a very short time which is great.
“We’ve since seen him regularly in clinic to check how he’s recovering and we’re all pleased to see that he’s in good shape.”
“It’s been a pleasure supporting him on this journey and we wish him all the best with his ongoing recovery.”
The Manchester Renal Transplant Unit at MRI, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, performs more transplants than any other hospital in the UK.
They are currently carrying out single kidney transplants only while they safely return to normal services.
Recent national figures from NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) show that last year (2019/20) 1,580 people in the UK donated their organs after they died; saving or improving the lives of 3,760 transplant recipients.
Stephen said: “All I know of my deceased donor is that he was male. I’m so thankful to him and his family for all he’s given me. To lose a loved one is never easy, so I will pay my respects by living well and looking after myself as best I can.”
Following the introduction of Max and Keira’s Law in May 2020, all adults in England are now considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate (known as ‘opting out’) or are in an excluded group.
While Manchester Royal Infirmary’s transplant services were suspended, the transplant team have worked to transform the way they now deliver care, including introducing transplant support hotlines and redesigning clinics to safely consult with transplant patients.
As measures to tackle the pandemic were implemented across the UK, transplant recipients were classified as high-risk and so received government guidance to shield. Face-to-face clinic attendances at the MRI were therefore reduced as much as possible.
To enable the transplant team to safely continue their work, they set up a dedicated transplant patient hotline. The hotline provides support for MRI patients with enquiries related to ongoing prescriptions for anti-rejection medications, monitoring of symptoms and how to safely access clinical services, as well as advice on shielding.
Helmi Saedon was one of the team that staffed the hotline. He said: “Working on the transplant hotline has been very fulfilling. Recovering from a transplant can be a long and complex process, and patients can often have questions and concerns. We knew that we wanted to continue to provide our usual advice and support in their recovery, while still keeping them safe during the lockdown, and so it’s been a pleasure to be able to keep providing that helping hand.”
Clinics at the MRI have also now been remodelled to allow for appropriate social distancing in order to protect patients and staff.
Stephen said: “I can’t say thank you enough to everyone in the transplant team for everything they’ve done. The whole team have been professional, welcoming and friendly throughout, and are always very quick to explain stuff so I know what’s going on.
“I feel especially lucky and grateful to be the first MRI patient to receive an organ since after lockdown. I know that Covid-19 precautions will have added another layer of complexity for the team’s work but they were so professional that you couldn’t notice. I can’t fault anything from them, they were brilliant.
“The process itself was all very quick and smooth which was good because it meant I didn’t have much time to get nervous.
“Due to Covid-19 restrictions my parents unfortunately weren’t able to come with me into the hospital, but the team were great at making me feel comfortable. My mum’s a nurse so I’ve had to distance from her in the house which has been interesting, but we understand we need to act responsibly so we’re taking all precautions.
“I now feel really well, even better than I was expecting to after the operation. My surgery wound is healing well and it looks like everything is going in the right direction in terms of my condition improving which is great.”
Stephen was born with chronic kidney disease (CKD), a long-term condition which can cause a gradual loss of kidney function over time. As a result of this, when he was very young he suffered a kidney infection that caused irreversible scarring.
He said “My family and I have been speaking about the possibility of getting a transplant for about 20 years, and I’ve been on the waiting list for six. There’s so much that goes in to finding the right match, and a year or so back I’d been called in for a transplant that unfortunately could not go ahead, so I was starting to think it might not happen.”
Stephen works in retail in the day and is a drag queen by night. As ‘Nadia Business’ Stephen comperes a Karaoke night in a club in Bolton. He also supports the local LGBT community with outreach programmes and hosts a regular ‘safe space’ for LGBT people.
“I live a full life and I’ve never let my CKD stop me. I try and look at things positively and realistically, and play with the hand I’ve been dealt.
“My condition never really restricted my life too much, and I’m lucky to have a really supportive family and job, but when it became apparent my condition wasn’t getting any better we knew surgery was the best option. It’s been an emotional experience for all of us and I’m really looking forward to getting my life back on track.”