Newsmaker – Diane Victor: The ultimate gift

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Artist suffering from kidney disease expresses gratitude after the art community rallies around her to give her the gift of a new life

Well-known South African artist Diane Victor (50), who suffers from hereditary polycystic kidney disease, received the ultimate Christmas gift on December 18: a new life.

The award-winning artist underwent life-saving surgery to transplant a healthy kidney from an anonymous donor.

Victor was initially on a waiting list with 300 others also in desperate need of a kidney.

She was told it would take five to six years to find a donor and was hoping for a match from the US, which has a “domino” programme.

The programme entitles a person to surgery as soon as a match is found for them. Her partner, Gordon Froud, also an artist, offered to donate his kidney, but their tissue was not compatible.

Costs for the expensive surgery were raised from two art exhibitions, and friends and benefactors who managed to raise more than R1.8?million.

The artists who offered work for auction included William Kentridge, Kendell Geers, David Goldblatt, Kudzanai Chiurai and Sam Nhlengethwa. One of Kentridge’s self- portraits fetched R280?000.

Victor’s serious kidney complications meant she had to undergo dialysis twice a week for four hours a session.

“It altered my way of life, my ability to travel and my work schedule,” she says.

Victor responded so well, she was discharged from the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Joburg on Friday, just nine days after undergoing surgery.

The donor – a friend of a friend who matched her tissue sample – was also discharged within days.

His act of extraordinary generosity has left Victor struggling for words.

“Wow! Just absolute admiration and gratitude,” she says of her feelings for the donor. “I mean, this is a fit, young guy. And to offer such a selfless gift. It’s amazing.”

Receiving an organ from a donor is complicated. The transplant has to be approved by the department of health, a process that can take up to four months and which is in place to control the trade of internal organs on the black market.

“The doctor described the operation as a textbook case with no complications,” Froud wrote in one of his regular Facebook updates.

Victor says that despite being in pain, she has started feeling better almost immediately.

“As soon as the kidney kicks in, your toxicity levels go down, and you start feeling brighter and better.”

She says she is putting the rest of the money raised by the auction into a trust to be used for South African artists who require expensive medical treatment.

“We can confirm the formation of the DVV Care Trust, which will administer the funds and take care of the hospital bills and her postoperative care costs,” said the Goodman Gallery.

Victor and Froud say they were overwhelmed by the outpouring of well-wishes and support from friends, family and the art community.

Victor rose to fame in the 1980s when she won the Volkskas L’Atelier and Sasol New Signatures awards. Her best-known works of art are her smoke drawings, which manage to capture the depth and complexity of subjects that are usually overlooked.

She is looking forward to the healing process and plans to undertake a large body of work when she’s back on her feet.

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