Woman who lost her husband to kidney failure to donate kidney to son with similar condition

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The Phelan family.
The Phelan family.
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  • A KZN mom has offered up a kidney to save her son's life.
  • Shaun Phelan was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure in 2020.
  • He is set to undergo the surgery next month.

A KwaZulu-Natal school teacher will be donating one of her kidneys to her 23-year-old son, who has chronic kidney failure.

Sharon Phelan said her husband was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure in January 2020, and just three months later, doctors discovered that her son Shaun had 4% kidney function. 

Her husband succumbed to kidney failure in October last year, as he was ineligible for a kidney transplant due to his health problems.

"I tested to see if I was a match as I knew that he probably would have a long wait on the transplant list, and I wanted him to be able to have an opportunity for a better life. I also knew that being a family member, I could possibly be a good match for him," she told News24.

To hear that her son and her husband of more than 24 years were facing equally difficult obstacles was extremely difficult for the family, said Phelan.

She said watching her diabetic husband, who was always active, go through a bypass, then dialysis, followed by being completely reliant on a wheelchair, was heart-breaking.

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"Then Shaun got sick, which was a major shock, as he has always been healthy," she added.

"In the absence of his dad, who he loved dearly, Shaun is determined to defeat his diagnosis and is fully focused on his health. He currently undergoes dialysis three times a week for up to six hours," said Phelan.

Determined to see her son no longer suffering, Sharon dutifully volunteered to get tested, hoping to beat the 50/50 odds of becoming a kidney donor for her son.

Undergoing blood type, crossmatch, and tissue testing, Sharon was pleased to learn that she was a perfect match for Shaun.

kidney
Shaun Phelan will undergo a kidney transplant next month.

"I am happy that I am a match for my son, as this means that he can get the transplant sooner and not have to wait for a match to be found. I hope that the transplant is a success so that he can carry on and live his dream and he is not held back," she said.

'Mom is my miracle'

She said it has been "difficult for me to see my son get sick like this" and be on dialysis.

"He was never a sickly child or had anything wrong with him while he was growing up. It was a big shock to realise that he had kidney failure. It was also difficult for me to see him go to hospital during the lockdown and not knowing what was going on and not being able to visit him," said an emotional Phelan.

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"I really want my son to be able to complete his studies and finish his qualifications. His dad was so proud of him and wanted him to complete his qualifications. It will be a great relief for me to know that he has a better quality of life and has these opportunities available to him." 

Shaun is set to undergo his kidney transplant at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital next month. He said:

Mom is my miracle, and I couldn’t be more grateful and happy that I can finally start to try and live my life with new meaning. I am excited to do the surgery because my standard of living will improve and will be able to live a normal life again.

He added that even though he was "a little nervous", he was approaching the procedure with faith and trust that the surgery will be a success.

"I am looking forward to living a normal life again and not having to plan anything around dialysis. I am also looking forward to furthering my studies." 

Shaun said he had "no words to express how truly grateful I am for my mother giving me a kidney with not even hesitating to give me one of hers".

The KwaZulu-Natal family were also hit by the recent floods which claimed more than 400 lives, and said they were "beyond grateful" that they were able to escape unharmed.

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"My daughter and I were at home when at around 22:30 there was a strange noise outside of the house. There was no electricity due to some electrical fault in the area and we had to try and see what the noise was," said Phelane.

'Worried house would slip down the hill'

She said her daughter took a torch and looked out of the window and the bank outside the house had completely washed away.

"We immediately grabbed a few clothes and things and evacuated the house as we were worried that the house would slip down the hill. We were taken in by our friends in the middle of the night," she recalls.

Phelan said they were lucky that their house didn't wash away.

"We did not feel safe in the house, as the bank had washed away to the foundations and there was more rain predicted. We rushed to get our things out of the house and with the help of friends and family, we managed to save our belongings," she added.

The family are still currently looking for a place to live as they have only managed to get a small one-bedroom place to stay for now.

"Shaun’s surgery is of importance right now, but we do realise that we need to get to get a slightly bigger place so that once Shaun’s surgery is complete, he can have a space to isolate," she said.

The family have since set up a BackaBuddy campaign to cover some of the costs which the medical aid does not cover.

"The kind donations and words of support we have received as a family have been our lifeboat. We have faced many hardships in the last two years, most recently having to evacuate our home due to the floods in Durban, but we have hope and faith that Shaun’s transplant, our luck will begin to change," Phelan said.


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