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Neighbour makes kidney transplant possible

Rafeeqah Isaacs battled with poor renal function for many years and was advised to go onto the transplant list in 2013. Expecting a long wait, she was stunned when an old friend and neighbour offered to be her donor.


The gift of life

‘I really thought Zaahier was joking. We’d been neighbours for many years, but lost touch until we met again at his sister’s home in August 2014. My family had already been tested but no one was a suitable donor, and I knew that the next step was to go onto the transplant list. I also knew that I faced a possible wait of four to five years and had no idea how I was going to survive till then.

I had so much to live for. I was only 33, a married mother of a nine-year-old daughter and studying law. I’d battled with kidney function since high school and had been a patient of Dr Piers Stead, a nephrologist at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital, since 2006, because after the birth of Ridwah my kidney function dropped to 28%. He was absolutely amazing and was constantly at my side, educating me about my condition and guiding me through the emotional journey as my kidneys continued to fail.

From dialysis to the transplant list

I felt very comfortable with him and when he told me it was time to go onto dialysis, and later onto the transplant list when my kidneys were functioning at 5%, I trusted his judgment implicitly. My quality of life was badly affected. I was permanently exhausted and would fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I was on home dialysis for 12 hours every single day and my roles as wife and mother were very limited.

I’d be up and down emotionally and would often question ‘why me?’ I’d go through stages of being depressed, which was when Dr Stead would step in with words of encouragement. And then came Zaahier’s incredible offer. Testing to see if he was a suitable donor took nine very long, very anxious months. As my condition deteriorated, I became increasingly breathless and I worried how I’d carry on if we were unable to go ahead.

Recovering from a transplant

The day we were given the thumbs up was the best day of my life – I couldn’t stop laughing and crying. I had the transplant on 4 August 2015, and Zaahier and I spent four days together in ICU building a bond that’s hard to describe. He has said from the start that he wanted to do this for me, because I’m such a good person, and brushes off my gratitude with complete humility.

The transplant was a huge success and I feel more alive than ever before. I continue to see Dr Stead every month and am so grateful for his support before and after my surgery. There are no words to describe what it’s like to be given a second chance at life.

The value of organ donation

People don’t realise the value of organ donation, which not only saves the life of one individual, but of an entire family. Without Zaahier’s generous gift, I’d still be battling to get through each day; right now I’m living each one of them to the full, brimming with energy and joy!’

Give someone the gift of life: Visit to find out how to become an organ donor.

In her doctor’s words

According to Dr. Stead, there were approximately 250 kidney transplants performed in South Africa in both the private and public sector last year, the majority in the Western Cape and Gauteng. ‘Many of these patients had been on dialysis while waiting for their transplants,’ he explains. ‘Donors can either be living or deceased. The average waiting period for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor is four to five years, while the majority of living donors are family members.

‘Rafeeqah’s situation is very rare. Unrelated donors only make up 10% of cases and this is usually a spouse. This makes her transplant unique. Invariably, there’s a special person who needs a kidney and an equally special person who’s donating one. Rafeeqah is an extremely generous, warm person with a larger-than-life personality. Her kidney transplant went off extremely well and her kidney is working almost 100% normally. She’s extremely vigilant about taking her medication and attending follow-up appointments, which will ensure that she has an excellent long-term outlook with her transplant.’

Dr Piers Stead is a nephrologist/physician at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town. He is also a member of the South African Renal Society, the South African Transplant Society and the International Society of Nephrology.