From teenager needing a kidney transplant to PHD student wanting to make a difference
Megan Cairns discovered as a child that she needed a kidney transplant. Now 15 years later the young County Antrim woman is on a mission to help others and make a difference to renal care in Northern Ireland.
Written by Megan Cairns
My name is Megan, and I am a 26 year old PhD student in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast.
Looking at me, you would think that I am a regular young adult who loves food, powerlifting and likes to live life to the full. Though there is a very specific reason for this.
The story begins when I was 5 years old, when I was lethargic, yellow in colour and extremely thin. I was sleeping constantly to the extent that I couldn’t even dress myself for school in the morning.
My parents were understandably, extremely concerned and kept taking me to the General Practitioner. This continued for around 8 weeks, continuously being sent home with constipation, until my bloods were done. I was then sent to the paediatric unit at my local hospital, who again sent me home, until that evening when we received a call to go straight to the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.
Since I slept for the majority of the journey, all I remember was being carried by my dad and looking over the back of his shoulder as the door to the ward got further and further away. That little child knew something was wrong and was very scared, but she didn’t know how bad things really were.
My creatine was in the thousands and my haemoglobin was 4.2g/dl. My consultant who was on call that evening said that “those results can’t be right, that child can’t be alive,” when she heard them.
I was at deaths door and it was a miracle that I was still alive.
The anaesthetist refused to take me to theatre because I was so ill for 3 days until my consultant said that it was “now or never.” So off to theatre I went for a PD dialysis catheter. I was on dialysis for 24 hours at the beginning, but this decreased to 12 hours every night, apart from a short period of time that I was on haemodialysis instead for 4 hours, 3 times a week.
I found haemodialysis more difficult, from missing school to feeling even more tired from not being dialysed as regularly so I went back onto PD. I only ever had one call for a transplant, 7 years after I was diagnosed. I remember my parents telling me on my 12th birthday that I was finally getting my kidney.
I have now been transplanted nearly 15 years but there have been some difficult times throughout the years. For example, I had unknown sepsis during my undergraduate degree and I personally really struggled mentally with COVID and a fear of going out even 2 years after it.
Thankfully, I am able to use all of these difficult times to work on something beneficial.
I started my PhD in October on a project that is researching sexual dysfunctions in chronic kidney disease. The project aims to use co-design to improve sexual health awareness and reduce stigma among patients, partners, and healthcare professionals involved in renal healthcare and to develop a strategy to embed sexual health support in renal healthcare.
This will be done by exploring current practices and challenges of sexual health care with stakeholders to frame the issue and analysis will be conducted to gain an understanding of the issue and how interventions would best be implemented.
I have always wanted to help those with kidney disease coming behind me and now I believe that I am starting to make that difference. My transplant saved my life and is allowing me to be able to carry out this work and also live my life to the fullest.
I am getting married this month (April 2023) to an amazing man, who is so understanding of the daily tasks that are part of my routine through having a kidney transplant, and I have been able to travel the world. I got to go to Disneyland, which was on my bucket list, visit family in Canada and go to the Christmas markets in Vienna. I wasn’t able to do any of that before my transplant and I am forever grateful for my amazing gift.
With the wedding coming up, I have been reflecting on my life and when I think of the little girl who was fighting for her life to the women that I am becoming, I start to get emotional. I always wondered if I would be here and doing all of these amazing things and because of my donor, I am.
I can live my life and make the difference for renal care!
For more information please visit Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund.