As presents for a partner go, Michelle Freedman’s recent gift to her husband has got to be up there. Last month, she gave him her kidney.
The couple, who have been married for nearly 27 years, underwent the double surgery at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.
Robert Freedman, 59, had been suffering from kidney failure due to a degenerative disease. Two years ago, his health started to deteriorate significantly. He was being given weekly dialysis, but that was not enough: he was in need of a life-saving transplant.
So when Mrs Freedman, 52, found out she was a match, she said it was a “no brainer”.
Speaking to the JC from their home in Mill Hill, north London, where the couple are recovering, Mrs Freedman said: “I was inspired by a television programme I had seen about a pairing scheme, meaning that if I wasn’t a match for Robert I could donate a kidney to someone and in return Robert would receive a matched kidney from someone else.” But Mrs Freedman, who shares her husband’s O blood group, was a match.
Mr Freedman, a financial adviser, said that initially he didn’t want his wife to “go through that” but there was no doubt in Mrs Freedman’s mind. “I just thought, if I can do it I will. If I couldn’t help him, he would die.
“I feel lucky that we could do this.”
There have been a few “rocky moments” but so far, the doctors are pleased with the functioning of Mr Freedman’s kidney. “We are doing alright,” says Mrs Freedman, who works in a clothes boutique in Mill Hill, north London.
“Inwardly I feel better,” says Mr Freedman. “I’d be lying if said I wasn’t tired but it’s only been five weeks post op.
“People have mentioned that I now have normal colour.” He has lost three stone since getting ill but feels like he is beginning to get his strength back.
“And the best thing for me about whole thing is not having to go to dialysis and just getting normal life back.” And of course, watching his beloved Spurs play.
Mr and Mrs Freedman have three children; Emma, 25, Katie, 21, and Adam 19. Katie and Adam went to JFS while Emma went to King Solomon in Essex.
It was not until after the couple married in 1992 that Mr Freedman was diagnosed with Alport Syndrome, a genetic condition resulting in progressive loss of kidney function.
“I went for a routine medical,” recalls Mr Freedman. “I wasn’t unwell but my blood pressure was really high so they referred me to a specialist to get it checked out. It was actually my dad’s specialist, as he also had very high blood pressure. He put me on blood pressure medication to try to get it down. Over the next few years I continued to have checks – it was manageable but still high so the consultant decided to do a kidney biopsy.”
Initially Mr Freedman says he didn’t feel the impact of the disease. An avid Spurs fan, he was still playing five-a-side and going to watch Spurs play.
But two years ago, a routine blood test revealed a prostate abnormality. In June 2017, he underwent a prostate biopsy and found out he had prostate cancer. He was placed on emergency dialysis and had the prostate removed in September 2017. “At this point my worsening kidney function was becoming a big issue.
“My energy levels had been really low. I had been feeling very washed out, tired, and lost my appetite. I couldn’t walk any long distance and had to give up my five-a-side football. I had nothing in the tank.
“I knew I would have to have a transplant at some point.”
Mrs Freedman is one of around 1,000 people in the UK who each year donate a kidney or part of their liver while they are still alive. Yet around 5,000 people are in need of a kidney transplant and hundreds die each year due to a significant donor shortage.
The Freedmans are now looking forward to enjoying their lives again including celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary in March and Mr Freedman’s 60th in June. “It will be nice to start enjoying things again,” says Mrs Freedman. “This has shown us not take life for granted, and we feel so lucky that I was able to help my husband out. Some people have to wait such a long time for a transplant. We hope our story can make others aware of donor schemes.
“When I told people what I was doing they all said; ‘Wow you must really love your husband,” adds Mrs Freedman.
“It puts everything in perspective. It makes you appreciate what you have. If you haven’t got your health you have nothing.”