Posted on Tuesday 18 February 2020
Hayley and Hurlington Armstrong on the morning of their operations.
A woman who saved her father’s life by giving him her kidney is now on a mission to raise awareness of organ donation among the black community.
Hayley Armstrong, 33, donated her kidney to her father Hurlington Armstrong, 67, at Guy’s Hospital in London last year. Hurlington, a retired carpenter from Brixton in London, was on dialysis for over a year after his kidney function deteriorated due to high blood pressure.
Hayley, a mother of two who works for a housing association, said: “Dad and I have always been close. He’s very proud and strong. Seeing him go to hospital three times a week for dialysis, get weaker and his condition consume his life made me feel there was no option but to restore his health.”
The pair had surgery in August and Hurlington’s new kidney quickly made an impact. Hayley said: “Before dad’s transplant I didn’t realise his skin had got darker and he had lumps and bruises on his arms from dialysis. Two days after the operation his complexion was back to normal and his arms were better.
“He’s signed up to a gym – before he only went to dialysis and stayed at home. He doesn’t know what to do with himself because he has so much energy. At times I’m overwhelmed by how he is now compared with how he was. I saw my dad looking like his world was over to now having a new lease of life.”
She added: “The care at Guy’s was amazing. My living donor nurse Miri was my angel – she’s been like a sister to me throughout this experience and I can talk to her about anything. The attention we received made it feel like Dad and I were celebrities!”
Hurlington said: “I’m so proud of Hayley. I think every day about what I can do for her but what she’s given me is too big a gift to compensate. Everyone in my community has heard about my transplant and Hayley is the hero of the hour.
“Now I’m even running for buses and bounding up the stairs! That would have been unheard of before, when walking was so hard and painful. I’ve surprised myself and my friends with how well I’m doing. I’m finally living a normal life.”
Hayley and Hurlington want to inspire other black people to discuss organ donation. They will attend the Big Conversation, the first living donation event for black kidney patients and their families. The event, which will take place tonight (Tuesday 18 February) at London South Bank University, is being hosted by Gift of Living Donation (GOLD) and Guy’s Hospital and is funded by NHS Blood and Transplant’s Living Transplant initiative.
Hayley said: “To have the opportunity to change a loved one’s life was amazing. People think the donor’s life will change but, although I had pain for a short time, now I don’t feel any different. I’d do it again if I could. I also feel less body conscious because I look at my scar and think my body has saved a life. The whole experience has given me a new perspective.
“Black people need to have more information and to meet donors and recipients who have gone through it. They often get the wrong idea about donation. Hopefully hearing my story can encourage them.”
Hurlington added: “I’ve lived in my community for 60 years so I’m well known here. I wanted to raise awareness of organ donation. I’ve spoken to people who aren’t usually interested and made them think about it.
“A lot of people are suspicious about donating organs, it’s a cultural issue. Everywhere where I go, people I don’t recognise say they’ve heard about my operation so I want to have an influence.”
Hayley will be one of the speakers at the Big Conversation along with Dr Refik Gokmen, a consultant nephrologist from Guy’s and St Thomas’, and living donation coordinators from the Trust, among others. The event will highlight the urgent need for more black and ethnic minority living donors to help prevent avoidable deaths. Often the best matches for a transplant come from a donor with the same ethnic background.
Black patients account for 11% of those waiting for an organ compared with 2.5% of the UK population. They wait almost a year longer than white patients for a kidney and are also less likely to receive a transplant from a living donor of the same ethnic background. Last year, only half of black living transplant recipients received an organ from a donor of the same ethnicity compared with two thirds of Asian patients.
Dela Idowu, founder of GOLD, said: “I hope the event will give black patients the confidence to talk about living donation with family and friends and inspire loved ones to consider becoming a living donor.”
Lisa Burnapp, clinical lead for living donation at NHS Blood and Transplant and consultant nurse in living donation at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “It’s so important to keep the issue of organ donation at the forefront of everyone’s minds so that more people waiting for a kidney can enjoy the benefits of a successful transplant and a life free from dialysis. Transplantation transforms lives and more donors are needed to make it an option for black and Asian people in particular.”