Couple have matching life-saving transplants in the same month

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Michelle Commons and Steven Jarvis

A boyfriend and girlfriend are looking forward to their future together after receiving the same type of ‘double’ transplant within weeks of each other.

Michelle Commons and Steven Jarvis, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, both underwent combined kidney and pancreas transplants at Guy’s Hospital in May after suffering from chronic kidney failure caused by type 1 diabetes.

Each year around 165 people in the UK receive this type of transplant, which is known as a simultaneous pancreas kidney transplant (SPK), if they have progressive kidney failure caused by type 1 diabetes. The condition means the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas which make insulin, the hormone which controls the amount of glucose in the blood.

Steven and Michelle were both diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as young children, causing a number of health complications from an early age. High blood sugar levels increase the risk of developing serious eye conditions and Steven’s sight has progressively deteriorated since 2010 and he is now registered blind, while Michelle is partially sighted. Michelle has had two heart attacks and a heart bypass operation, due to her diabetes.

The pair met around a year ago while they were having dialysis, a procedure which replicates the function of the kidneys. Patients usually need dialysis three times a week, for four to five hours at a time.

By that time Michelle and Steven were both waiting for a transplant because their kidney function was so poor. A combined kidney and pancreas transplant will ‘cure’ their diabetes because a healthy pancreas produces insulin.

Account manager Michelle, 37, said: “At first we started as friends and found we had so much in common due to our similar experiences. We had our first date in December and just clicked.” The couple’s relationship went from strength to strength and they moved in together earlier this year.

In early May, Michelle received a call saying a suitable match had been found and she had her transplant. She said: “Within a few days I felt brighter and less tired. People said I was glowing with colour in my face, and I didn’t look poorly anymore. Having diabetes and feeling sick from it was all I’d known so being ‘normal’ was a lot to take in – it was an emotional time.”

For Steven, it was reassuring to see Michelle go through the whole process when he was waiting for a transplant too. Michelle said: “Steven was there every day I was in hospital. Seeing me go through it gave him insight into what having a transplant was like. The staff on the ward looked after us both and joked that Steven would get a call saying a match had been found for him as soon as I could go home.”

But sure enough, a week after Michelle was discharged Steven received his own life-changing call and had his transplant.

Former van driver Steven, 34, said: “When my consultant at Guy’s first said a combined kidney and pancreas transplant could cure my diabetes it was like a dream. After the operation it felt surreal knowing I had a working pancreas, that my blood sugar levels were normal and I no longer needed insulin injections. My skin was brighter and my eyes looked healthier too.

“My blood pressure has improved so it has taken the strain off my eyes and my sight should stabilise. I’m feeling optimistic and it’s great to not be restricted by dialysis anymore. Hopefully the world will soon be my oyster. I haven’t been away for over five years so I’d love to go on holiday with Michelle. It’s amazing to have the connection we have – Michelle really understands me and what I’ve been through.”

Michelle added: “The transplants have brought us even closer. We’ve looked after each other as we’ve been recovering at the same time. Now we can go to restaurants and eat what we want, and plan holidays and weekends away. We’re really looking forward to our future together.”

Both Steven and Michelle will write to the relatives of their donors to thank them for transforming their lives. Michelle said: “I want my donor’s family to know that although they have had an awful loss, their loved one lives on with me and has given me new life. After all their sadness, their relative has given me something magical. I’ll never forget that person – they have a place in my heart forever.”

Steven added: “We will always be grateful to the families who changed our lives, and for what our transplants have done for us. I’d urge everyone to donate and save lives.”

Professor Nizam Mamode, professor of transplant surgery at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Guy's and St Thomas’ has one of the longest running and most active transplant programmes in the UK and it is wonderful for us to see how the lives of patients like Michelle and Steven are transformed after a transplant. We are always in awe of the generous donors and their families who make this possible.

“However, people are still dying while they are waiting for suitable donor organs so we encourage people to sign the Organ Donor Register so we can carry out even more life-saving transplants.”

Last updated: March 2022

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