After one of her twin babies died in utero of asphyxia in 2014, Geelong graphic designer Clare Westwood underwent an emergency caesarean and discovered that the surviving twin, Quinnie, was in grave danger.
The tiny baby was in a critical condition due to kidney failure caused by oxygen deprivation during Westwood’s pregnancy trauma.
Showing astonishing resilience, Quinnie survived her first few months but they were just the beginning of a three-year ordeal; one that was only resolved late last year when Quinnie received a donor kidney through the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange Programme.
“That happened because my father-in-law volunteered to donate a kidney to a complete stranger,” says Clare, her voice cracking with emotion. “It was the most incredible thing. We’ll never forget what he did for us, for Quinnie.”
Today, on the eve of DonateLife Week (July 30–Aug. 6), Quinnie is a cherubic, precocious 3-year-old with a verve and energy that belies her first few months, when she fought for life in the neonatal intensive-care unit of Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital.
After Quinnie finally came home from hospital in 2014, she was dependent on the daily use of home dialysis. The family began thinking about her receiving a donor kidney, but that couldn’t happen until she reached 10kg.
When Quinnie attained the ideal weight and abdomen length, "the problem then was getting [a kidney],” says Clare. As she and Jarrod wanted more children down the track, she couldn’t donate herself. Jarrod wanted to give one of his but testing discovered he wasn’t a match.
Finally, Jarrod’s father, Rod Westwood, offered.
“He went through the intensive testing and though he was found to be a suitable blood type, there wasn’t a perfect tissue match,” says Westwood. “So it was back to the drawing board.”
It was then the Westwoods became aware of the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange Programme, which finds matches for patients who have a willing donor but one who is unable to donate to them due to an incompatible blood or tissue type.
Rod was a match for someone on the program.
“There were risks for me and that was well explained, but I could live well enough on one kidney,” says Rod, a financial analyst for VicRoads. “And after everything Quinnie had been through, my wife, Wendy, and I wanted to do all we could for her.”
Late last year, Quinnie and Rod were operated on at the same time—Quinnie receiving a kidney, Rod giving one up. Both operations were successful. While Rod’s recovery took about seven weeks, Quinnie was home from hospital within a week.
“She had never eaten solids before, so she had ice-cream and custard in a Dixie cup,” says Clare. “Dialysis stopped, of course, and at the same time her eyes became clear, colour came into her cheeks, she started sleeping through the night. It was unbelievable. Quinnie’s strength and love of life helps us stay positive and we’re grateful we have each other. It’s been hell but it’s getting better and better.”
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