From a headline-grabbing roadtrip, to a lifesaving op: 3 years on, 'life is good’ for Cally Wlliams

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  • Cally Williams is living a brand new life since her kidney transplant three years ago.
  • She has started a new job as a teacher's assistant and aims to study teaching.
  • Cally also wants to get in touch with her donor’s family to thank them.

Life has been good to Cally Williams. 

5 March 2019 was a life-changing day for the 32-year-old, who, after being on the waiting list for years, received a kidney transplant at Netcare’s Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town. 

Her journey to the hospital made national headlines at the time as Sister Salome Siebritz, a National Renal Care nurse, drove her and another kidney transplant patient through the night from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, making it possible for them to arrive just in time to receive their transplants, Health24 reported

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"I received the call that changed my life forever. Everything is so much better now than when I was on dialysis, because I can do so much more," says Cally, who was in and out of hospital for eight years for treatment.

Her condition meant she had to be at the hospital three times a week, for four hours, to have her dialysis done. This often left her feeling fatigued and affected her quality of life. "It was just too hectic. It drained all the energy out of me. I felt like I couldn’t do anything after that."

Now, her life is all smiles, knowing she has many wonderful years ahead with her family, especially her 11-year-old daughter who has been able to spend more time with her mom since then. "She missed me a lot while I was at the hospital for dialysis," says Cally.

New beginnings

Cally also started working in November as an educator’s assistant to Grade 1 pupils at Convent Primary School in Uitenhage. The class bustles with energy, but Cally can keep up.

"I have more energy since my transplant. Things feel more normal now," she says.

She’s enjoying her new job so much that she decided she wanted to apply to study Foundation Phase teaching. "I developed a passion for working with children. I love children," she says.

Health post-transplant

Managing her health after the transplant is also her top priority. Typically, kidney transplant recipients must take medication daily for the lifetime of their transplanted organ to prevent rejection and fight infection.

For Cally, this means taking eight tablets every morning without fail. During her recovery in hospital, a few days after receiving the transplant, a nurse discussed the medication and its side effects with her.

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One of the drugs Cally would have to take was prednisone, she said. It came with several possible side effects, including weight gain, "moon face", fatigue, increased blood sugar, and irritability.

The same nurse also told Cally about a young patient who had had a heart transplant a few years ago and became unhappy with the weight gain because of the medication she was on. "She didn't like her appearance and couldn't accept the fact that she was getting fat, so she stopped taking her medication. She then got sick again and passed away because her heart failed," Cally wrote in a Facebook post in 2019.

"That is so sad. Prednisone sucks, but it keeps your new organ healthy."

While Cally is noticing weight gain and has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as a result of the medication, she has vowed to love and look after herself.

"The lady who wanted to be slim – that story was an inspiration for me to look after myself and take my tablets on a daily basis and remember that my kidney and health are more important than what I look like and gaining weight," she says, adding:

I have to exercise regularly and watch what I eat - I have to try and eat healthy. My only fear is that something will happen to my new kidney and I would have to go back on dialysis. So I have to really take care of myself. I've been through so much pain, and now I have a second chance at life. My health will always come first.

Cally has to go for routine blood tests every three months to find out how well her kidney is working. "At my last check-up, everything was fine," she says with pride in her voice.

Surviving Covid

Cally, who is immune-suppressed due to her transplant and in the extremely high-risk group for severe Covid-19, went through a traumatising ordeal in December 2020. She was rushed to hospital, where she tested positive for the virus and spent 38 days in the intensive care unit (ICU) and general ward. 

Just months earlier, she had posted about her fear of getting Covid-19. 

"I was weak and anxious. I couldn’t do anything for myself. But I tried to stay strong for my daughter. I was praying so much during that time and for my kidney to be fine," she says.

She also battled with severe hair loss, one of the many symptoms of long Covid, for months after her infection, but her hair is slowly growing back.

Says Cally:

I believe God gives his greatest battles to his strongest soldiers.

For a while, Cally blamed herself for contracting the virus and not being more careful, despite following all Covid-19 restrictions at the time: "I know how it feels to grow up without my mother and I don't want that for my [daughter]. She's my world, my everything," she reflected in 2020

But she made it through the storm and her kidney is doing great, she says. 

Constant gratitude

Cally wants to get in touch with her transplant coordinator in the hope that she can write to the family of her donor. 

"The greatest hero I never knew was the organ donor who saved my life. None of this would have been possible without the selfless decision of my donor and her family. I pray and think of them daily," she said in 2019.

Cally told Health24: "At the time, they said they can’t tell me who the family was, but I want to find out if I can write a letter to them and let them know how I’m doing.

"Some people wait many years to get a kidney. I’m truly blessed. I had multiple surgeries and multiple scars, but God sent me that special strength to never give up. I'm alive and grateful for the gift of life."

If you're interested in registering to become an organ donor in South Africa, click here.

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READ |'To my organ donor all the way in heaven, thank you for giving me a second chance at life'

READ | My colleagues all call me ‘ma’ – meet the hero nurse who drove through the night to get her patients to life-saving surgery

READ | Nurse drives kidney transplant patients 800km through the night to get to life-saving surgeries

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