Whitsunday dad’s headache leads to life changing transplant
IT all began with a headache.
Three years ago, Cannonvale dad Darren Attwood was living a busy, healthy life balancing work and three daughters.
He started experiencing bad headaches, but like many people he just took painkillers and pushed on.
When the pain became unbearable Mr Attwood went to the doctor where he was confronted with a terrifying diagnosis.
He was told he had IgA nephropathy, more commonly known as Berger’s disease, which he described as “when your immune system destroys your own body”.
From there, Mr Attwood’s world was thrown out of balance as he travelled to Mackay two days a week for dialysis.
Combined with the three-hour return commute and recovery time, treatment made day-to-day life all the more difficult.
“When you’re in the renal unit you can see the progression of where you’re heading, and that’s the hardest part,” he said.
“(You didn’t) know where you were going to go with your future.
“Every day was the next day, we’ll get to the next day and we’ll get to the next day.
“It consumes your life.
“You almost lose hope that you’re going to get that call.”
However, late on the evening of February 25, the phone rang.
Mr Attwood’s specialist informed him there was a kidney available at Princess Alexandra Hospital, and so jumped on the 6am plane to Brisbane.
By the next evening he had a new kidney.
“It’s very overwhelming, you can’t explain it,” he said.
“It’s your second chance and not many people get a second chance.”
While Mr Attwood did not know his donor, he was lucky enough to meet another father who received the second kidney.
“We were able to go through the whole process together,” he said.
“We got the same kidney from the same donor, so our results have mirrored each other right through the process.
“He’s got a young family as well, so I’ve got another brother basically.”
This connection was made all the more special as Mr Attwood’s transplant surgery took place just before coronavirus restrictions came into place.
Mr Attwood had to spend five weeks in lockdown in Brisbane before being reunited with family and friends in the Whitsundays.
Months later, his compromised immune system means he still has to remain incredibly cautious when in public.
“I’ve got to be very careful about where I go,” he said.
“I can’t go and hang out with big groups of people and social distancing is part of your life now.”
Before his surgery, Mr Attwood was one of more than 1700 Australians currently waitlisted for an organ transplant.
Mackay’s donation specialist nurse co-ordinator Donna Contor said a further 12,000 others lived with regular dialysis treatments.
In 2019 more than 540 people donated their organs in Australia and helped to save 1444 Australians.
Being one of them, Mr Attwood urged others to register to donate their organs.
“Now I can see the girls growing up,” he said.
“I can go on a holiday now where beforehand I couldn’t go anywhere because I had to be within two days of Mackay no matter what I did.
“You have a new outlook on what you actually want to do.”
As part of DonateLife Week, Australians are being encouraged to register to be an organ and tissue donor.
While the majority of Australians believe it’s important to be an organ and tissue donor, only one in three are registered.
You can register to be an organ and tissue donor online via donatelife.gov.au