Sometimes in my line of work I come across some truly amazing people. Aside from
dealing with community issues, court cases, crime, scandals and planning issues, on a weekly basis I have the honour of coming into contact with some of Cheshire’s most determined, selfless and brave people. Hearing their stories is always a mind-blowing and humbling experience, but every so often there is a person whose bravery, coverage and determination leaves you in utter awe – so much so that it really puts your own troubles into perspective.
I don’t often talk about work on this blog, but I just have to share this story will you about a woman who seriously made me take a hard look at myself, my life and encouraged me to get cracking with my challenges. It is also one of those stories that restores your faith in humanity – until moments later someone lets a door swing shut in your face that is!
This week I had the pleasure of talking to a truly remarkable woman. Jan Bell is 43-years-old and has already had two failed kidney transplants. She relies on daily dialysis to survive, but after her second transplant failed she is facing a race against time to find a live kidney donor to keep her alive. Her veins have been so badly damaged by years of intensive treatment and dialysis that she now relies on a neck line to keep her alive – if this narrows and fails she will have months to live. Time is rapidly running out, and without a stranger giving her a kidney she could be dead by Valentine’s Day.
Remarkably despite years of illness – with her face and joints swelling up until she was often unrecognisable; often being so weak she couldn’t climb stairs; and dealing with septicemia and infections following operations – Jan has remained a successful and well-respected businesswoman within Cheshire, winning numerous awards for her beauty clinics across Chester and Frodsham. Speaking to Jan it was difficult to remember I was speaking to someone who was so seriously ill, that she might be dead in a matter of months, she was just so positive, chatty and upbeat. Her bravery and positive attitude was astounding. In fact we had such a long chat about hospitals and treatments that I told her I had Crohn’s – she said she would hate to have such a horrible condition and sympathised with me – and this lady’s been on the transplant waiting list for almost two decades!
While on the phone we spoke of how Janet (Jan) wanted to stay alive for her customers, how she wanted to keep her business going and of her dreams for the future. Suffering from Crohn’s/Colitis myself and knowing how difficult it can be to hold down a full-time job while trying to manage a chronic condition, it was astounding to hear how Jan managed to pull off a string of successful businesses on her own while dealing with the ongoing side effects of kidney failure for the past 17 years. Jan told me she felt a little bit like a failure when she was forced to abandon some of the branches of her beauty clinic over the past few years due to feeling weaker after the second kidney transplant failed. Despite understanding her feeling of failure due to illness (having to abandon many things and miss out due to my IBD) I couldn’t disagree with her more. This woman is a true heroine….running a self-made business and standing behind that counter every day while dealing with kidney failure – if that doesn’t deserve a slap on the back I don’t know what does.
Last week, after being told she had to find a live kidney donor or she would die, Jan did something completely unprecedented. After exhausting all options, having asked customers, friends and family to no avail, Jan placed a personal ad in The Chester Chronicle asking for a live kidney donor. It was a tiny ad, bizarrely placed among adverts for parrots and stairlifts, but the response she received was amazing.
When i spoke to Jan on Tuesday she had already received 64 responses from total strangers all across the country and even the world willing to see if they were a match to give her a kidney. I was shocked. And when I spoke to the agent who helped her place the ad they said the help line for Jan was overflowing with around 100 responses. In fact every time I rang it to talk to Jan it was so full it wouldn’t accept any more messages. Unbelievable. Ok, many of you are probably thinking (cynically or realistically) there must be a cash incentive involved? And Jan admitted some people had emailed asking for cash, but true to her ad Jan insisted she was not willing to pay any money for the kidney – she is relying on human kindness.
And man she’s had a bucket load of strangers willing to save her life. If that doesn’t change your opinion on humanity I don’t know what will.
Jan says she is realistic about the process. She understands that the probability of more than a handful being a match is very small, and also realises that the reality of donation may lead to many pulling out, but she wants to live and is willing to try anything to find a donor to stay alive. I admire that. it makes you wonder what you would do in that situation, what you would do if you found out you had months to live if you didn’t find someone willing to give up an organ for you. Would you give up, or would you fight and try everything possible, no matter how desperate or unconventional it may be? I like to think I would…but who knows.
Ok, so hundreds of people didn’t come forward just because of the tiny advert hidden within the local paper. The national press caught on to it and Jan’s story was seen by tens of thousands of people on Daybreak, Granada, The Mirror and the Daily Mail, as well as in the story I did for the Chronicle.
But, as Jan said, it just shows how such a simple thing can work. And I think she was right when she said that if the NHS put adverts in local papers they could have more people signing up to be donors that ever. If it works for her it might work for anyone, who knows?
This month Jan has a pioneering operation to put a bolt in her neck line to stop it from narrowing as quickly. This should buy her much-needed time to find a donor. I hope it does, and I hope something comes from all this. Not just for her, but for all the people she has encouraged to sign on to the register to become live donors. In her words not mine, if she helps just one other person on that waiting list “it will all be worthwhile”.
To read Jan’s story in full visit: http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/frodsham-woman-overwhelmed-response-after-6302516