Husband gives gift of life

Jeanette Caldwell received a kidney from her husband John 27 years ago. Picture Shawn Smits.

By Tate Papworth

John and Jeanette Caldwell hold a special place in Victorian medical history.

John gave his wife Jeanette a kidney 27 years ago, becoming the first non-related person to donate a kidney in Victoria.

Jeanette said she developed kidney problems when the couple first met.

“I was born with my condition, but it wasn’t picked up until I was 22 and by then all the damage was done,” she said. “I preserved my kidney life by 10 years on a special diet of no salt, no sodium and 30 grams of protein a day.”

However, eventually her kidneys began to fail.

“When my kidneys really started to fail, they decided to test family members.

“My mum was a match, but she had scarlet fever when she was young and had scarring on her kidneys. They said that would’ve been like giving me bruised fruit, so we couldn’t do that.

“One day after testing John looked at my medical card and noticed we were both B positive, which isn’t that common, so the next time we saw the kidney specialist we jokingly said should we test John … things went from there.”

Although it started out as a joke, things rapidly got serious when doctors confirmed John was a viable match.

Jeanette said the closeness of the match had the two asking some uncomfortable questions.

“We actually had two antigens in the blood that match, which is highly unusual, so then we went down a road of wondering if we’re related, which was quite funny because no, we’re not,” she said.

After vigorous physical and psychological testing, the operation was a success.

Almost three decades on, Jeanette said there’s been some road bumps, but no troubles with her kidney.

“I’ve had lots of reactions to the drugs, but no rejections or anything like that.

“I had flaps grow on gums which had to be cut out, a face full of acne, I got the shakes which didn’t help because I worked at a coffee shop, my gall bladder out, a third of my stomach removed and cataract surgery.

“I’ve had lots of things out and one thing put in, but I’m still walking around and I’m not hooked up to a machine.”

Jeanette said the experience brought her and John closer together.

“Although my brothers-in-law are a little unhappy with John for raising the bar so high.”

Sunday, November 18 is the national day dedicated to honouring all organ and tissue donors and their families.

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