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Rare kidney disease sufferer, 32, is saved by her best friend’s organ donation

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A woman with a rare kidney disease has been saved by her best friend’s organ donation after surprised doctors discovered they were a perfect match. 

Giselle Kennedy, 32, was told the devastating news that she had end-stage kidney failure in December 2019.

Best friend Leah Philbin, 31, was first to offer her organ and medics were shocked to discover the pair were a perfect match – before joking they could even be sisters.

The pair, from Nottingham, are now both recovering from the successful surgery which took place on May 26 this year.

Giselle Kennedy

Leah Philbin

Giselle Kennedy, 32, (left) was told she had end-stage kidney failure in December 2019 before best friend Leah Philbin, 31, (right) offered her organ

The pair, from Nottingham, are now both recovering from the successful surgery which took place on May 26 this year. Pictured: Leah (left) and Giselle (right)

The pair, from Nottingham, are now both recovering from the successful surgery which took place on May 26 this year. Pictured: Leah (left) and Giselle (right)

Giselle, who works in communications, said she could not be happier and praised her friend’s generosity for bringing them closer together.

She said: ‘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.

‘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.’

Giselle, who works in communications, said she could not be happier and praised her friend's generosity for bringing them closer together. Pictured: Giselle (left) and Leah (right)

Giselle, who works in communications, said she could not be happier and praised her friend’s generosity for bringing them closer together. Pictured: Giselle (left) and Leah (right)

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 that leads to permanent kidney damage and even kidney failure.

And, in May this year, Giselle’s kidney function dropped to three per cent.

But following the transplant tests have now revealed her new kidney is operating at 90 per cent.

Leah, who is 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.

What is Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis?

The condition is scarring of the glomeruli, the tiny structures that filter blood to make urine, which can only be seen under the microscope. 

In many cases there are no symptoms and it is only picked up during a routine medical check.

In some cases there is protein in the urine and ankle swelling occurs due to fluid retention. 

If the condition is advanced, it can lead to tiredness and sickness. 

Experts are not yet clear on what causes the condition but believe it’s an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself.

Source: Kidney Patients UK 

‘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.

‘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 definitely 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.

Giselle said: ‘We call each other soul sisters as we do everything together from tandem bungee jumps, holidays to water rafting.

‘But we never expected our organs to be such a perfect match. It feels like fate!’

Leah described 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.

Leah said: ‘The testing and process prior to 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 may not be well enough for the transplant.

‘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!’

The women are currently fundraising for a charity that is close to their hearts called Kidney Care UK. Pictured: Giselle (left) and Leah (right)

The women are currently fundraising for a charity that is close to their hearts called Kidney Care UK. Pictured: Giselle (left) and Leah (right)

Leah was discharged from the hospital on May 30 and is now recovering at home.

Giselle is still in hospital but hopes to be back home soon.

The women are currently fundraising for a charity that is close to their hearts called Kidney Care UK.

Giselle said: ‘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 9000 members who kindly share their tips, answer kidney-related questions and support each other.

‘Kidney Care UK also help kidney patients adapt to their new restrictive diets and provide accessible advice and excellent support, particularly as patients approach end-stage renal failure.’

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