real life

"Miracles can happen": A complete stranger saved the life of Allison Langdon's sister.

When Allison Langdon thinks back to her childhood with her little sister, Kristen, she has idyllic memories of them playing with their brother, mucking around in bushland "down the back" of their family's property in Wauchope, NSW. 

But the Today host has other memories mixed among them. Of Kristen spending lunchtimes in the school office drawing up her insulin, of watching her take pinpricks and have her thrice-daily injections.

Kristen had been diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 11.

"Growing up, we were always mindful of it," Allison said. "If Mum and Dad were out or we were off somewhere with Kristen and she had a sugar-low it could be quite dangerous. We all had to know what to do in such circumstances.

"But most of the time, she took care of it. She took care of it so well."

In 2010, shortly after Kristen gave birth to her first child, a little girl who arrived 13 weeks premature, Kristen's health deteriorated.

As she writes for Mamamia, by the following year, it became clear she needed a kidney transplant.

"The first four years of [my daughter's] life, she did not have a healthy mum. I was constantly exhausted as my body struggled with the buildup of toxins that my failing kidneys couldn’t process. For years, that was my life until the decision was made in early 2014 that I needed dialysis."

Watching her sister hooked up to machines daily, waiting for a new chance at life, left Allison heartbroken.

"She couldn't run around and do all things that she wanted to do with her little girl... She's such a beautiful mum. She's the most extraordinary mum, with just so much love to give," Allison said.

"She's stoic, she's strong, but it was hard; it was hard to watch it and to feel like you couldn't do anything to help."

Giving the gift of life.

Last year, 1,444 Australians received a life-saving transplant courtesy of 548 deceased organ donors.

Yet right now, more than 1,700 Australians are still on the waiting list and another 12,000 are on dialysis, many of whom would benefit from a kidney transplant.

Just like Kristen.

After a number of false alarms—potential donations that, for various reasons, didn't match—the young mother got the call in 2014. A suitable donor kidney and pancreas (which she also needed by then) had been found.

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Kristen: "That moment was surreal. I immediately called my husband and parents, and we were at Westmead Hospital within two hours. It was possibly the longest day of my life... I felt elated that I was getting my long-awaited transplant, but also an overwhelming sense of guilt for the loss another family was suffering. It was a lot to deal with. I actually started singing Spice Girls songs (of which I’m not a fan) just to keep my mind off what was happening.

"At 7pm that night, I was wheeled in for surgery. I kissed my husband and parents and told them to look after my precious little girl if things went wrong. I was scared."

Allison was on assignment in Israel at the time, reporting on the surging conflict for Channel Nine.

The call came through at 2am.

"I just remember trying to get home," she said. "It's a really really long flight when you know your sister's undergoing the biggest operation of her life."

Allison and Kristen in hospital after Kristen's transplant. Image: Supplied.


Kristen: "The next few days were a blur. Luckily for me, within the week I was showing signs of a very successful transplant; both my new kidney and pancreas were working perfectly and doctors were very happy with my progress.

"I stayed in hospital for two weeks, with a few hiccups along the way. After that, there were several months of daily hospital visits, which then became weekly and, finally, monthly. Now I still see my specialist every three months for a checkup to ensure everything stays on track.

"My transplant has given me a second chance at life. My daughter is almost ten now and having a sick mum is, luckily, a distant memory for her."

"I truly don't know how you sum up the gift that this person and their family gave to my sister and to us," Allison said. "Giving the gift of life, how do you get your head around that?

"We also knew that in that moment, when my sister was given an opportunity to live a normal life, that another family somewhere was experiencing the worst day imaginable. And we were so very much aware of that."

Kristen: "Every year on my [transplant] anniversary, I still feel that conflicting emotion. I have an enormous amount of respect and sincere gratitude for my donor family. To make a decision under such tragic circumstances has got to be one of the most difficult situations to ever go through, even more so if you have not had the conversation with your family about your wishes beforehand."

And that conversation is crucial.

In Australia, a donor's family is asked for consent before the procedure goes ahead. It's therefore essential that you make your wishes about donation clear to your loved ones and sign up to the Australian Organ Donor Register.

Data from the Australian Organ and Tissue authority shows that, in 2019, nine out of 10 families agreed to donation in when their family member had registered their desire to be a donor through the AODR.

"Don't put your family in a situation where they have to make that decision in the worst moment of their lives," Allison stressed. 

"Make your wishes really clear. Go online, sign up as a donor, and know that you are giving the most extraordinary gift that will save numerous lives and numerous families."

Kristen: "My donor's choice gave my family back a wife, mum, sister, aunt, granddaughter, cousin and a friend. It also gave me back my life.

"And, to make life just that little sweeter my little family of three will be growing to a family of four: we are expecting a sibling for our beautiful daughter. So my donor didn’t just give me life, he or she also helped me be well enough to create a new one and allowed my family to realise that miracles can happen."


This Donate Life Week (Jul 26–Aug 2), speak to your family about organ donation and register to donate via via donatelife.gov.au. It only takes a couple of minutes, and it could save more than seven lives.


Featured Image: Supplied.

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