When his 15 year old daughter Rebekah represents the UK in Sweden on 17-24 June this year, Paul Wagnell will experience more than pride. Without the kidney he gave her exactly five years ago that week, Rebekah would not be alive, let alone swimming for her country at the World Transplant Games in Göteborg.
The precious bond between our UK’s Midlands and East Anglia sales manager and his younger daughter took on unique proportions when she was diagnosed with chronic renal failure at birth. At two days old she was transferred from her local hospital to Guy’s & St Thomas Hospital Trust specialist care Renal Unit and has been under its care ever since, moving to the newly built Evelina Children’s Hospital in 2005.
Rebekah’s renal failure was carefully managed and maintained by a strict diet together with a cocktail of medication, but Paul and his wife Tina were acutely aware that her one kidney would eventually fail and that she would need a transplant in her teens.
By 9 yrs old, though, she had no energy, struggled to eat and was frequently sick. It was clear her renal function was deteriorating and a kidney transplant was needed sooner than expected. Coming from her father, that gift of life was particularly special to Rebekah – a gift she will never forget. “It was June 2006, when I was 10, and we both made a good recovery. I began to enjoy good health, but after just 6 months I collapsed at home and was admitted into Intensive Care with serious breathing difficulties. I was diagnosed with Post Transplant Lymphoma, another serious and life threatening condition. This was an enormous shock to me and my family, but with the support of the amazing medical team at The Evelina I made a remarkable recovery.
“One thing motivating me throughout my recovery was the chance to compete at The British Transplant Games. I’d heard so much about them from other children, nurses and doctors. I desperately wanted to experience it for myself. In 2007 I swam at my first Games in Edinburgh, and wasn’t disappointed. I returned home clutching 3 medals, and have not looked back since. Now I would dearly love to add a medal from the World Transplant Games to my collection.”
To fund the £2000 to help cover the cost of her training, registration fees, flights and accommodation for herself and her parents to accompany her, Rebekah took part in The London Bridges Walk early this year, and worked on other ideas to help reach her target. With more than that already raised, the extra is going to the Evelina Children’s Hospital.
However well she does in Sweden, Rebekah can do little wrong for Paul Wagnell. Her battles have always been high drama and emotion for him – he remembers the wait after testing to find out whether or not he could donate a kidney to his daughter as “the hardest three weeks of my life.”
“Rebekah may have only just turned 10 then but she knew the risks, that people die during donor surgery and organs can be rejected. We were strong for each other. I’d grit my teeth and say, Let’s go for it. And she would laugh and grit her teeth back at me in agreement.”
Paul had spent time in a friend’s recording studio making a CD for his daughter to listen to, a mix of favourite songs and him talking. “It was my way of being there with her. But even after the surgery’s success, it was hard to look forward. You spend so long coping with this intense present. I’d look at Rebekah and it would hit me hard, what we had been through. Then very slowly, life becomes normal. But this bond between Rebekah and I, that never goes.”