When Charli Wheeler’s kidneys failed, her mother, Sharon, was desperate to help.
Born with Vater Syndrome, which results in a number of birth defects, including kidney problems, Charli spent most of her first two years at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
When she was 15, her family learned that she needed a new kidney.
Sharon wanted to donate one of hers but was rejected because her blood was incompatible, so Charli’s father Kevin donated.
“Originally I felt very rejected and useless as mums help their children whatever way they can,” said Sharon.
“But… [Kevin]… was there and able to do that.”
Just three years later, though, aged 18, Charli rejected the organ and had to spend the next four years on dialysis.
“We went on list for donor, but although quite a few kidneys became available they were not suitable for Charli,” said Sharon, from Kent.
“We were side-by-side in the operating theatre, recovery and then when we got back to the ward”
“I didn’t know where to turn.
“Her life was ebbing away. I could see my beautiful little girl just wasting away in front of me. I was heartbroken and desperate to help but couldn’t.”
And then a medical breakthrough – blood washing – gave Sharon the chance to help her daughter.
Because Sharon’s blood group was incompatible with Charli’s, her daughter needed to have the antibodies that might prompt a rejection removed.
Charli was first given drugs to suppress her antibody production, then her plasma was removed and replaced to help reduce antibody levels in the blood.
‘Lucky it worked’
Last year, at the age of 22, she was ready for surgery at Guy’s.
“It all went swimmingly and so far there have been no problems,” she said.
“We were so lucky that this one has worked.
“We were side-by-side in the operating theatre, recovery and then when we got back to the ward.”
Geoff Koffman, consultant transplant surgeon at Guy’s, said being able to offer techniques like this offered more opportunities for patients like Charli.
“We are constantly looking at ways to improve the lives of patients that need a transplant and searching for innovative methods in which to do so.
“Transplants like this are fairly rare at the moment but we’re hoping to offer this treatment to many more people in the future.”
Lisa Burnapp, lead nurse in living donations at NHS Blood and Transplant and formerly at Guy’s, said that over a lifetime children like Charli would need more than one transplant.
“It is certainly not unusual for children to need more than one transplant over the course of their lives,” she said.
“Transplanted kidneys do not last as long as your own.”
Sharon Wheeler is just glad to have the ‘old Charli’ back again.
“When they come back from the transplant and are healthy you realise what you had lost,” she said.
“Just being so well means she has gone from sleeping a lot of the time to singing in the car – it is wonderful.
“She wants to go out all the time, looking at clothes, shopping, visiting people, doing all the things that for three years she did not have the energy to do.”
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