July 2, 2016 7:00pm
Pictures: Ellen Smith

Monash Medical Centre’s 100th kidney transplant a perfect love match

WHEN Simon Jay first saw Irene Gregory across a Richmond dance studio, he thought she might be his perfect match.
As he recovers from transplant surgery he now knows she is also his life saver.

“It is a wonderful bond between us, I have her kidney. I can only describe it as an extraordinary act of love and affection,” Simon said.
Three years after the couple met, fell in love and began looking forward to the rest of their lives together, Simon’s inherited polycystic kidney disease threatened to take it all away from them.

When the 49-year-old’s kidneys completely gave up last November the search for a transplant began — remarkably, he found an almost perfect match sitting right beside him.

“My partner was coming along to my meetings with the doctor, and she basically volunteered. It is extraordinary that we’ve been compatible and that Irene’s kidney is such a healthy, good kidney,” he said.

“The chances of us actually getting to the operating table were very slim indeed.”

The transplant 10 days ago marked a record-breaking milestone for Monash Medical Centre — its 100th kidney transplant in 2015-16.
Between 20 and 30 per cent of the hospital’s kidney transplants involve live donors such as Irene, but Monash Health head of nephrology Prof Peter Kerr said the improved awareness of organ donation had made more deceased organs available and driven up transplant opportunities.

“It is the first time we cracked 100, so that is really good. The best we have got to before has been 92,” he said.

The Monash team’s growing reputation induced Jamaican urologist Ray Gafoor to fly out to assist during Simon and Irene’s June 24 transplant to learn the techniques.

Moments before being anaesthetised for the surgery, Irene had no nerves, telling the Herald Sun of her excitement at the chance to help Simon.

“I’m feeling great, I’m feeling excited, and a bit humbled by the whole experience that something like this can happen,” she said.
“For the last nine months it has been full on in the transplant program knowing that at any point you could be off the program because you didn’t tick one of the boxes. But, fortunately, I ticked all the boxes.

“Simon might be a little anxious though.”

An hour later, as she dissects Irene’s kidney from her spleen and bowel, surgeon Nancy Suh is also bursting with pride at the achievement of the transplant team.

 Surgeons Dr Nancy Suh and Ray Gafaar during the transplant. Picture: Ellen Smith.

“We are pretty proud of ourselves, we’ve had a busy year,” she said. “I find it incredibly satisfying because when you meet these people they are very sick, they have renal failure, are on dialysis and spend half their lives in hospital.

“Then, when you transplant them, they are just healthy again.”

At 10.14am the kidney was removed from Irene, placed in a bucket with ice and sterile gel, and inspected by Dr Suh and fellow surgeon Ming Yii.

Six minutes later Dr Yii walks the organ next door into a neighbouring operating theatre where Simon lies anaesthetised and waiting for him to implant the kidney.

After Irene’s blood is flushed out of the kidney and excess material is cut away, doctors Yii and Gafoor begin the task of connecting it to Simon’s arteries and veins.
When it is fully connected at 10.50am, Dr Yii announces that Simon’s blood is running through the kidney, Taylor Swift’s Love Story is playing in the operating theatre and putting a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet.

“It is a good kidney,” Dr Yii says.

Five days later, as Irene prepares to be discharged from Monash, she is already seeing a difference in Simon’s health and looking forward to a life together where they can again dance and he is not stuck at the side of a dialysis machine.

“We are already a perfect match,” she said.

“It is not always easy to be the energetic one, while the other one just can’t keep up with you.

“It is so much nicer if you can do the same things, can walk the same distance and have the same enthusiasm.

“We used to have that before he deteriorated so heavily, and now it is coming back.”

For Simon, getting to go home only this weekend, the battle now is working out how he can repay Irene.

 Simon Jay gives Irene Gregory a thankyou peck after the operation. Picture: Ellen Smith.

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