Donor miracle ends family curse

Published: May 6, 2008 | 7013th good news item since 2003

A MOTHER who lost her husband to kidney disease has saved the life of their son by giving him a kidney.

Devastated by the death of her husband of 32 years, Christine Miller spared their youngest child, Damian, the same fate.

And this week, having recovered from their simultaneous operations for the transplant, they are celebrating the arrival of a new son and grandson.

Damian’s wife, Jenni, gave birth to Beau, the couple’s second child, last weekend.

It was a joyous finale to a remarkable series of events that began with heartbreak for the Miller family.

Damian’s own kidney problems were discovered in 2000, when he and older brother David were tested for kidney compatibility with their father, Peter.

Peter Miller suffered polycystic kidney disease, a condition that required blood dialysis for more than three years and ultimately proved fatal.

He died in September 2003 after years of waiting in vain for a compatible donor.

Damian, now 32, was distraught to learn his kidney was not a match for his dying father.

“It hit me pretty hard,” he said.

“All I wanted was to be able to give Dad my kidney.”

To make a grave situation worse, tests revealed the Miller brothers suffered the same condition as their father – the growth of cysts on their kidneys – and could one day need life-saving kidney transplants themselves.

Both were initially told it would be at least 15 years before the disease affected them.

While David remains in good health, Damian’s condition took a dramatic turn.

“Within a year my kidney function dropped to about 25 per cent,” he said.

When it fell to 11 per cent a year ago, doctors told Damian he also needed a transplant.

But a combination of his mother’s love and improved technology since his father’s death gave Damian a second chance at life.

Last November, one of Christine’s kidneys was successfully transplanted into her son, despite their different blood types.

It was the first time the surgery had been performed at Monash Medical Centre using an “incompatible” donor.

Professor Peter Kerr, director of Monash’s Department of Nephrology, said it was possible by “teaching the recipient’s body to accept other blood types”.

“Just like you can’t give blood from somebody with type A blood to somebody with type B, you can’t transplant a kidney from an A to a B,” he said.

“If you were to do a transplant in that situation, the kidney would go black in about 30 seconds because we all have antibodies that (reject) other blood groups.

“But before this type of transplant, we basically take all the antibodies out of the (recipient’s) blood.”

Knowing her kidney could be made a match for Damian, Christine said she didn’t give the major operation a second thought.

“It was an instant decision,” she said. “I would have been devastated if it hadn’t have been possible to give him one of my kidneys.

“If you go through something like this together, it shows there’s something pretty wonderful there.”

Published in Life
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