Here at Gleeds we were recently named in the Top 25 Best Workplaces for Wellbeing by Great Place to Work and while we are thrilled, we’re not surprised. For we understand and celebrate the fact that the people in our business can bring their whole selves to work. Naturally we appreciate their work, but we also see them as individuals with their own lives beyond their jobs and we're here to support them through their highs and lows. That's why, for World Kidney Day we want to share the stories of two of our valued team members for whom the day has a special significance…
Gleeds’ health and safety project director Alexandra Warner knows only too well the difference a transplant can make, for she donated one of her kidneys to her mother, Joan, to save her life.
In 2018 Alex’s father Tony was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and while her family was trying to adjust to the tragic news, her mum’s health also began to decline. “At the time the focus was obviously on dad, but during the eight weeks we had left with him I could see mum was also going downhill,” recalls Alex. “Just before he died dad said to me, “Alex, there’s something wrong with your mum and once I go, you need to get her to the hospital and find out what it is.”
Heartbreakingly, Tony was right and Joan had a rip in her bowel. After emergency surgery she contracted sepsis, which led to multiple organ failure. She died twice on the operating table, was on life support and had to be rehabilitated. It left her with severe kidney failure.
Joan needed dialysis to keep her alive and was told she’d need a kidney donor. “Straight away I volunteered,” says Alex. “The doctors explained how I’d need numerous tests, both physical and psychological, and warned I may not be a match, but instinctively I knew I’d be able to donate.” Alex’s instincts proved correct, and she was found to be a match, but COVID delayed the surgery. “We needed to get mum off the dialysis as soon as possible because it was putting pressure on her heart,” says Alex. “She was deteriorating fast and lost all her hair.”
Fortunately, in November 2021 Alex donated her right kidney to her mum, and the operation was a success. “Immediately afterwards it was like a light had been switched on inside her,” says Alex. “I remember her saying, “I feel like I’m alive again.” Both Alex and Joan have since made full recoveries and Alex is a huge advocate for live donation. “I tease mum that she owes me an extra £10k in her will, because she didn’t have to buy a kidney on the black market, but really I’m just grateful to have her here,” she says.
Someone who also understands the fragility of life is Gleeds’ head of regeneration, Natascha McIntyreHall, who received a kidney from her father Tony. She first became ill when she was 18 and collapsed playing football while at university. She had a blood clot and eventually she was diagnosed with lupus and chronic kidney failure. Natascha was told that when her kidneys deteriorated to a certain point, she’d need a transplant. She also had to cope with the devastating news that she wouldn’t be able to have children. “I went on a bit of a rampage to be honest,” admits Natascha. “The doctors told me to be careful, but I immediately signed up to Camp America and started snowboarding at a national level. Then at 24 I started to become terribly ill.”
Thankfully Natascha’s father turned out to be a good match and set about losing 3st in weight in order to be eligible. The donation process takes around six months and, in the meantime, Natascha needed dialysis. “Dialysis only gives you about 5% kidney function, so you still feel awful,” says Natascha. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I remember going to bed one night, convinced I wasn’t going to wake up the next morning.”
Thankfully, in November 2004 the surgery went ahead. “I came round from the operation already feeling lighter,’ recalls Natascha. “The kidney kicked in immediately. The difference a transplant makes to someone is phenomenal.”
As donated organs don’t last forever, Natascha is likely to need at least one more transplant in her lifetime but can rest assured that, no matter what, Gleeds will support her. “Gleeds have taken me on twice knowing I’ve got a kidney transplant and that it might go wrong,” says Natascha. “There’s no such thing as a normal person and your life can change at any point. That’s why is so important that employers and employees can roll with the punches.”