Ageing with attitude: Patricia MacKenzie has a new lease of life after a kidney transplant

Patricia MacKenzie now starts her day at 6am, exercises daily, works with three choirs and plays in the church. Picture: Fergal Phillip

The gift of a new kidney gave Patricia MacKenzie a fresh start eight years ago, and she has vowed to make the most of that chance every day, writes Margaret Jennings.   

WE hear about organ donation giving people the ‘gift of life’, but in the case of Patricia MacKenzie, who received a new kidney at the age of 58, it not only freed her from the routine of being tied to a dialysis machine three times a week for eight years, it also gave her a whole new appreciation of how she wanted to spend every moment afterwards.

“I won’t do anything unless it has meaning. I was given this gift, you know, and I have to look after it well,” she says, adding that she will never take for granted her restored health and energy.

“When I was on dialysis I was in a kind of a haze the whole time, feeling unwell. Once I had the transplant it was like being as clear as a bell. 

"No mist, no fog — spot on, my brain as clear as anything and so much energy — so completely different,” she says.

In the midst of the gruelling dialysis routine of visits to Beaumont Hospital at 4am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, MacKenzie, who is an organist and pianist, eventually found a creative spark, to carry her through those seemingly endless years without any ‘match’ for a transplant.

“My left arm was tied down with the connection to the dialysis machine, but I said ‘I have one arm and one pen and one rubber, so I can write music’. 

"I wrote 30 of these short pieces for the piano or organ. I hadn’t done any composing before.

“Sometimes things come around in our lives; it had never been the right time. I think the quietness of the dialysis room and the fact that I was forced into this position… what can a person do? 

"For three and a half hours being tied to a machine? So I did find that very comforting.”

Music has always been part of her life, and her husband Colin’s. 

It was actually after falling over a flex to a synthesiser in one of her bedrooms that she ended up in hospital, where her renal failure was diagnosed.

Eight years on from the night she got the call for her transplant, the 66-year-old mother of two and grandmother of three, is now far more active than she has ever been and lives as healthily as she can.

“Ever since my transplant, I get up at six in the morning and go for my walk at seven. Or do the bike indoors. 

"I have a part-time job in the renal support centre and I now have three choirs on the go and I also play quite a lot in the church. 

"I joined the ICA and they asked me to do the ladies choir there and we’ve entered a competition and won it two years in a row — I wouldn’t have done that before.”

She is secretary of the Dublin North branch of the Irish Kidney Association.

While most women go through the menopause in their early 50s, Patricia was in dialysis, having being diagnosed at 50 and generally unwell anyway.

“If there were hormonal changes I didn’t notice them because the dialysis took over. But I think everything came right after my transplant. 

"My eyesight improved — I don’t wear glasses. I can’t afford to get depressed or down. I have to stay well, I have to stay focussed.

“If I’m feeling a bit tired I take out crochet or knitting while watching a TV programme. I do crosswords as well and when I’m walking I’m actually going over the words of the songs for the choir, to memorise them. I keep the brain switched on.”

Her formula for staying well is a good one for ageing in general. 

“I’ve been given this gift and I realise it’s up to me to make the very best use of it and not waste my time.

“My advice to people of my age is to take stock of themselves and appreciate every moment that they have. 

"They should look after their health and keep trying something new, because life is too short and you don’t know when something might go wrong — it’s out of our control.”

Patricia will be among other volunteers giving our donor cards for Organ Donor Awareness Week which runs from April 2- 9.

Survival guide to the menopause

So That’s Why I’m Bonkers: A Girl’s Guide To Surviving The Menopause, by Sheila Wenborne, €10.26

The author chooses to use her experience of the menopause to take a humourous — yet informative look, at this major transition, having been informed officially herself of The Change at age 52.

With the subtitle being A Girl’s Guide To Surviving The Menopause we know it’s not going to be all doom and gloom.

We read about her surprise at the diagnosis for her feeling so “dizzy-headed, grumpy, fat, sexually redundant, liable to burst into tears at a drop of a hat and totally depressed all the time”.

She aims at the same time to make a serious attempt at breaking the taboo that surrounds this natural process that women naturally go through.

Brain statins

A drug similar to statins, commonly used to keep high levels of bad cholesterol at bay may be used to prevent Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have identified the drug, which is an approved anti-cancer treatment, as targeting the first step in the toxic chain reaction leading to the death of brain cells, according to a report on the research site of the University of Cambridge.

The discovery suggests the possibility that treatments could be developed to protect against Alzheimer’s, in a similar way to how statins are able to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. 

The drug, which is being labelled a ‘neurostatin’ has been shown to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s in a test tube and in nematode worms.

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