Sun, Nov 13, 2022 6:00 AM
Marlborough sporting identity Colin Timms is now a two-time kidney transplant recipient. He tells Paula Hulburt about his health battle and how his family pulled him through.
Thump, thump, thump.
His head was pounding in time to the thwack of the hammer as Colin tried to focus. He took a deep breath and hoped the pain tablets he had washed down earlier would work soon. He bit back nausea, determined to keep working, and took a swig of water. Stretching his aching back muscles, he tightened his grip on the hammer and carried on. It was a project close to his heart, a home for his family, for his wife Shirley (Shirl) and their three daughters.
For the two-time New Zealand provincial rowing champ and rep rugby player, progress was slower than he’d hoped. His body felt clumsy and lethargy drained his spirit. As the sun arched overhead, Colin felt the lesions on his back sting.
Following his second transplant surgery in August, Colin was stunned when he was told his kidney was failing. He needed to begin dialysis straightaway. Shirl explains how her husband had been at Trade Training School in Christchurch when he fell badly ill with flu, “Colin was 18 years old when he contracted a flu virus which started affecting the filtering of his kidney. At that time, they [the doctors] explained Colin’s condition would either get better or worse. He was having tests every two years to see how the kidney was going and somehow the appointments were forgotten and we didn't follow up until he was very unwell. The specialist in Wellington Hospital told Colin he had to go onto dialysis before we were in the door, it was a bit of a shock.”
The skilled carpenter hadn’t felt like himself for a while and despite the tiredness that stalked him every day, he hadn’t realised how very unwell he was. A keen sportsman, Colin’s diagnosis meant he had to give up both rowing and rugby. “I gave these activities up and did more pig-hunting, white-baiting, duck-shooting and built our house when Natalie was a baby. I started to notice I wasn't as fit as usual and couldn't understand why.”
The flu he had as a teenager left Colin with glomerulonephritis, where the kidney becomes inflamed and damage is done to the tiny filters inside. While many cases improve on their own, others worsen. Dialysis was Colin’s only hope while he waited on the transplant list. He never thought he would have to go through two transplants he says as he recalls his first trip to Wellington Hospital for dialysis almost two decades ago.
For six weeks, the couple were taught how to use the dialysis machine that would keep Colin alive. The pair then returned home to Picton with a pager provided by the hospital to let them know when a donor had been found. “Colin spent five years on the dialysis machine in our lounge, three days a week for six hours,” Shirl explains. “As the years went by, we accepted the fact that the kidney wasn't coming.
“Until one day the hospital contacted Colin at work and said they had a kidney and to get to Wellington quickly. It took a bit of organising our three daughters and animals and we were off,” she says.
The donation was from a deceased female donor from Invercargill. The woman remains in the family’s thoughts even today. “We never did contact the family and feel bad about that now. If that family didn't allow the kidney to go to another person, who knows how long Colin would have been waiting,” Shirl says.
Colin's doctors explained if the kidney wasn’t rejected, they could guarantee 10 years. He hoped he would never need another transplant. He got 21 years until the anti-rejection drugs affected the kidney and it started to die off.
As his health worsened and the headaches returned. Blood tests showed his kidneys were struggling and he resigned himself to going back on dialysis. All three of his daughters, Nicora Harney, Aletha Timms and Natalie Timms, volunteered to be tested as a potential donor. “It was a total shock,” says Shirl. “He wasn’t even thinking of a whānau donor.”
Natalie, who was 15 years old when her dad received his first donor kidney says it was an easy decision for her to make, “Watching someone you love deteriorate and wishing you could do anything to give them back their quality of life was more than enough for me to know that this is what I wanted and needed to do. It didn't take too long to find out we were a match. The technology and testing they do are pretty amazing.”
Te Whatu Ora say about 600 people in New Zealand are waiting for a kidney transplant. Live donor transplants are less common because of recipient health issues; 85 transplants were done in New Zealand last year using live donors compared to 180 overall. In most cases, the defective kidneys are left in the patient, as removing them poses more of a risk, so Colin now has four kidneys.
Waking up after her surgery, Natalie’s first thoughts were for her dad. As soon as she could, she was taken in a wheelchair to the ward above where Colin was recovering. Watching Colin turn his head towards her as she arrived at his bedside and the smile that lit up his face made it all worth it, Natalie says. “I truly just feel privileged and honoured that I was physically able to do this for dad. I was able to try to give him back that quality in his life and to still be here and able to go on adventures with his grandchildren.”
Natalie, an accountant, is urging others to consider the possibility of becoming a donor. “Helping give someone a better quality of life is priceless. Do your research and understand the risks but also know the remarkable pros for that person. My personal view on donating a kidney is a six-week recovery period for yourself as a donor versus a 15–20-year average life expectancy of that kidney from a live donor to the recipient.
“To me, it just makes sense that why wouldn't you if you can? If you are able to, then the benefits definitely outweigh any cons. Openly discuss it all with your family and friends and even talk to someone that has been through this process beforehand. Donation of any organs whether you are a live or deceased donor is an incredible gift to give.”
To find out more about becoming an organ donor contact Organ Donation New Zealand on 0800 4 DONOR (0800 436 667)