Few people may know what kidney disease patients go through during their medical treatment and dialysis programme. Their normal life changes completely. Patients must follow a strict diet, and quite often spend four hours on the dialysis machine and this is done three times a week. Their only hope of recovery is to be placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.
How are renal patients supported emotionally and psychologically? LifeCycle (Malta) Foundation, the only NGO that has consistently raised awareness on renal failure and raises funds for kidney failure patients and research, is now striving to offer psychology service to both renal patients, their families and living kidney donors.
William Saliba (pictured), an active semi-retiree and a cyclist of LifeCycle Challenge for the past 12 consecutive years, at the age of 59 decided to donate one of his kidneys. He said: “Being part of LifeCycle Challenge does not only involve training for the challenge itself, but the programme also involves visits to the Renal Unit at Mater Dei Hospital and meeting renal patients. Patients tell us their own stories.
“At one of our visits, I had met a young female renal patient, whom I had seen two years earlier, but this time I noticed how she had changed physically. She needed a transplant to be able to live a normal life. There and then, I went to speak to the Head Nurse at the time, and immediately started taking the necessary medical tests. Unfortunately, I wasn’t compatible with the patient and so I let it be.
“After a couple of years, I was approached by the current Renal Unit Head Nurse Paul Calleja who asked me if I was still interested in donating a kidney. Apparently, there were three patients who could be compatible with me and I started again a series of medical tests, in fact quite intensive ones. And, as a result, I was told that one patient on the waiting list was compatible with me.”
When asked if he had personally received any psychological support to be prepared for such a major operation, Mr Saliba did not recall any support apart from being asked to be assessed by a board of medical professionals and a priest who ensured that he was taking this decision freely and that his family supported his decision. He neither received any counselling before nor any emotional support after the operation, apart from that of his family.
“Psychological support is necessary. More one’s experience of the operation itself, it is even more essential when a person goes through mixed intense emotions and strong feelings of anxiety, ” said Mr Saliba. “Following the operation, you do feel some physical discomfort for a few days, but there always looms at the back of the mind a mix of powerful feelings and concerns, so being supported psychologically is most essential both for the kidney donor as well as for the receiver. On the other hand, as I have always remained physically active, I recovered within a few weeks and felt well enough to resume my cycling training.”
As a final appeal, Mr Saliba highlighted the importance of registering one’s wish to donate their organs after their death. An organ donation can often save lives. “Most donors find it quite inspiring that even after their death, they can still help others in need of a transplant by donating their organs. The majority of organs of people who die go to waste as, during their lives, most people are failing to register as organ donors,” explained Mr Saliba.
From over 1,400 NGOs in Malta, LifeCycle Foundation is the only NGO that supports and cares for renal patients and their families. Donations to LifeCycle is an investment and a gift for patients.