Selfless woman saves best friend’s life by donating her kidney: 'I didn’t think twice about it'

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Leah (left) and Giselle in early 2020. Image courtesy Caters News Agency/ Magazine Features
Leah (left) and Giselle in early 2020. Image courtesy Caters News Agency/ Magazine Features
  • Leah Philbin, 31, was first to offer her organ when Giselle Kennedy, 32, was told the devastating news that she had end-stage kidney failure in December 2019.
  • Medics were shocked to discover the pair were a perfect match and joked they could even be sisters.
  • The pair from the UK are recovering from the successful surgery which took place on May 26 2021.

Giselle, who works in communications, couldn’t be happier and praises her friend’s generosity for bringing them closer together.

“I will forever be in debt to Leah. She is an incredible person to bravely donate one of her kidneys and give me the gift of life. We have been friends for over ten years, and we’ve always lived our lives to the full despite me having kidney disease," she says.

“But now Leah’s kidney will enable me to continue to do more wonderful things. I can now put more energy into everything and finally be myself again.”

READ MORE | Sometimes friends can give support - but here's when to get help from an expert

Giselle was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) - a rare disease that attacks the kidney’s filtering units in 2009. She knew it would one day cause serious scarring, leading to permanent kidney damage and even kidney failure.

And in May this year, Giselle’s kidney function dropped to three per cent. But now, tests have revealed her new kidney is at 90 percent. Leah, a lead commissioner for adult social care, said, “I didn’t have to think twice about donating my kidney. I offered about seven years ago as we knew one day Giselle would need a transplant."

READ MORE | Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) walk

CATERS NEWS - (PICTURED Giselle (main image) and LGiselle and Leah on video chat post-op. All images courtesy Caters News Agency/ Magazine Features

“I hated seeing her health deteriorate over the last two years, and I volunteered as a donor as soon as I was able to. Although we were a bit nervous before the surgery, we focused on the positives and treated it like a celebration," says the selfless friend.

Speaking about the results of the surgery, she says, "We both cried our eyes out when we found out her kidney function has massively increased. It was the most brilliant feeling ever. This is the best decision I have ever made.”

The duo is often mistaken for sisters - even by nurses at the hospital. But doctors were particularly surprised by their match. “We call each other soul sisters as we do everything together from tandem bungee jumps, holidays to water rafting," says Giselle. “But we never expected our organs to be such a perfect match. It feels like fate!”

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CATERS NEWS - (PICTURED Giselle (left) and Leah (r

Leah describes the transplant as just the ‘beginning’ of their journey. The women hope to raise awareness of kidney disease and organ donation by sharing their story.

“The testing and process before the transplant surgery can take a long time and can be worrying at times. There were times when I thought it might not happen, and Giselle fell ill a few weeks prior, so I worried she might not be well enough for the transplant," says Leah.

"Thankfully, she was, and everything went smoothly. We even named the kidney Tyson as it is such a strong kidney! It couldn’t have gone better, and despite all the challenges, it has been amazing. I am so proud of Giselle - she has been so positive and resilient from day one. I am totally in awe of her strength and bravery!”

After donating her kidney, Leah was discharged from the hospital on May 30 and is now recovering at home.

READ MORE | 'My best friend lost interest in our friendship when she met her husband'

CATERS NEWS - (PICTURED Giselle (left) and Leah (r

Giselle is still in hospital but hopes to be home soon. The women are currently fundraising for a charity that is close to their hearts called Kidney Care UK.

Giselle says, “They helped me so much when I needed support with my kidney disease. Both me and Leah joined their support group on Facebook, which has over 9 000 members who kindly share their tips, answer kidney-related questions and support each other.” 

CATERS NEWS - (PICTURED Giselle, the day after the


Most people take their kidney health as a given, however kidney failure leaves people reliant on renal dialysis for survival, unless a kidney transplant can be performed. Fortunately, it is now possible for people with end-stage kidney disease to live well for many years with the aid of dialysis and by adopting a healthy lifestyle. 

“Many people mistakenly believe that kidney disease is only a problem in older people, however the reality is it can affect individuals at any age,” says Sr Chumani Mbixane, the unit leader of National Renal Care (NRC) Queenstown in Komani in the Eastern Cape. 

“Kidney function can often be preserved if the problem is detected before it progresses to end-stage kidney disease and is appropriately managed. For many people there may be no noticeable symptoms at first, therefore regular general practitioner examinations and kidney function tests are recommended,” she says.

Many kidney diseases can be prevented with the following tips from National Renal Care:

  • Quit smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to have reduced kidney function.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: This can help prevent heart disease and high blood pressure, which both increase the risk of kidney disease.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight: This also helps to prevent diabetes and high blood pressure, major risk factors for kidney disease.
  • Drink enough water: Six to eight glasses per day this will help your kidneys flush out harmful toxins.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Regularly check your kidney health with your general practitioner
  • Only take medicines and supplements with your doctor’s approval

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