Brother donates kidney to end sister's suffering

Siblings Ryan Muller and Ronelle Slabb
Siblings Ryan Muller and Ronelle Slabb
Photo supplied

When someone is in need of an organ transplant, finding a donor can be a long process, involving infinite patience and endless testing to find the perfect match. Luckily for Ronelle Slabb (29), the waiting process wasn't that long – thanks to her sibling. Her brother, Ryan Muller (28), generously agreed to donate one of his kidneys in order to end her suffering. This is the heart-warming story of how one can always rely on one’s family, no matter how dire the situation.

The nightmare began when Ronelle was booked into hospital with hypertension and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. This led to renal (kidney) failure, which meant that she immediately had to be set up for dialysis. After giving birth successfully, Ronelle then had a choice, either to get a kidney transplant or remain on dialysis for the rest of her life.

In her own words: “I was heartbroken when I learnt that I had lost my health and that I needed a new kidney in order to live a normal life again. It was one of the most gruelling and confusing moments in my life. I was in constant fear that the operation would be a failure and that I would remain dialysis dependent for the rest of my life."

Trying to save the situation

Things started looking up when Ronelle’s brother Ryan decided to step in.

“Witnessing what my sister was going through was not a pleasant experience for me, as I saw how all her dialysis sessions were draining the life out of her. She was constantly tired and weak and I could see how she was suffering both mentally and physically. I desperately wanted her to get better, and realised that the only way for this to happen was to find a donor as soon as possible. I decided to get tested because I realised that there was a strong chance of my kidney matching my sister’s, considering we’re family. If the kidney did not match, then I would’ve been fine with it, because I knew in my heart I did what I could for my sister. I was initially hesitant to ask Ronelle if I should test my kidneys for a match, because I feared that she might refuse to let me try, as she wouldn’t want me to go through such a painful process. She asked if I really wanted to do this, I said 'yes' and she agreed."

Ryan to the rescue

As it happened, Ryan’s kidneys matched Ronelle’s and without hesitation he decided to donate one to her. “I was fully committed to donating my kidney to Ronelle despite the consequences, as I decided that whatever happens, must happen. I really wanted to help my sister, because she deserved a normal and less complicated life and I couldn’t stand to see her suffer, as it was very traumatic for me to see her so weak and frail. She was no longer the energetic and confident women I once grew up with.”

Ronelle was concerned that the transplant might have a negative effect on Ryan’s wellbeing and health.  “I was very concerned about what would happen to Ryan’s health after the operation, and would only accept the kidney if the medical team could assure me that Ryan would be healthy, and that he could live a full life with only one kidney.”

The operation

The operation took place on 13 November 2011 at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. The operation was successful, and Ronelle and Ryan were both doing well. “I had no pain whatsoever,” exclaimed Ryan. “My body felt normal, and it didn’t feel like anything had been removed, although I did have a slight numb feeling in my legs.” Ryan couldn’t walk properly for a few weeks, but made a speedy recovery. Ronelle felt a great difference within just two days after the operation and had no further complications. "When I woke up, I just felt a little weak and that was it. It didn't feel as if a truck had hit me at all because I had no pain whatsoever." 

Life after the operation

Today Ronelle and Ryan are both healthy, and both are living normal lives. “I feel brand new,” says Ronelle. “I can eat and do things I couldn’t do before while I was on dialysis. I can finally be myself again and praises be to God for making the operation a success and making me healthy again. Although I have to take anti-rejection medication for life and go for regular check-ups every three months, that is nothing, compared to the blessing that I have received. Ryan is also fit and is living his life to the fullest and is actively involved in sports. He also has to go for check-ups, but only once a year.

Family support

Ryan and Ronelle could not have done this without the support of their family.

"My family, including my sister, supported my decision 100% and I thank them for accepting  it and not trying to talk me out of it," says Ryan happily.

Ronelle would like to thank her husband, parents and siblings for their constant support. "They have been the most amazing support in my life, and I could not have done any of this without them. They stood by me from the time I was diagnosed with kidney failure, all the way through to the transplant operation, and are still supporting me to this very day. "I would also like to say thank you to my brother Ryan for his bravery, loyalty and willingness to help me, despite the risks involved. You have shown me that I can always count on family, no matter what."  

What impact has the operation had on their lives?

According to Ryan, donating an organ has had a huge impact on his life. “I feel proud of myself because I helped someone overcome a life-threatening situation, and if I could do it again, I would. My sister's situation made me realise that there are still lots of people out there in even worse predicaments and who are in desperate need of new organs. So, if I had another opportunity to make a difference, I would.” Ronelle feels the same way, stating that if she ever had the opportunity to donate, she would. "I would share my life anytime, just to make someone else experience what I feel now."

Ronelle and Ryan both came to the conclusion that donating an organ is not such a big deal after all, as their respective operations involved no pain or any further complications. In Ronelle's own words: "I want people to know more about organ donation and not be scared to donate or go for a transplant. Despite the operations Ryan and I went through, we are both living normal lives without any complications, except that we have to go for regular check-ups, which is fine, considering the blessings we've both received."   

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