Sheffield man with four kidneys thanks brother and sister for giving him new lease of life

Paul Cocker (centre) with brother Vincent and sister Karen who have each donated one of their kidneys to him
Paul Cocker (centre) with brother Vincent and sister Karen who have each donated one of their kidneys to him
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Some people keep photos of their loved ones in their wallet, but Paul Cocker doesn't have to reach for his pocket for a reminder of his family's love.

That's because the 47-year-old from Deepcar, in Sheffield, carries a kidney each from his brother and sister, which he credits with giving him a new lease of life.

Paul a couple of days after the latest transplant

Paul a couple of days after the latest transplant

His sister Karen donated a kidney 16 years ago and when that eventually failed, his brother Vincent stepped up to do the same earlier this year.

Paul, who has just returned to work after the operation, still has his two original kidneys as they are not removed during a transplant - meaning he has four in total.

"I like to joke that when we have family gatherings they don't have to turn up; they can just send me to represent all three of us," says Paul, who worked for The Star before co-founding Meze Publishing, whose titles include The Henderson's Relish Cook Book.

"I owe them everything. Without them I wouldn't be here. They basically gave me my life back because it's no existence being on dialysis. It's a day-to-day struggle to get by."

A spectacular sunset captured by Paul, who says his latest transplant has enabled him once again to indulge his passion for photography

A spectacular sunset captured by Paul, who says his latest transplant has enabled him once again to indulge his passion for photography

Paul was around 10 when his kidney problems first surfaced on a family holiday after his ankles swelled up dramatically due to fluid gathering, but he says no one realised at the time it would be a long-term issue.

Indeed, it was another 14 years before it flared up again.

This time his face ballooned, his blood pressure soared to 240 over 160 (around 130/85 is standard) and within hours he was hooked up to a dialysis machine, which performs the function of the kidneys by removing waste products and excess fluid from the blood.

Looking back, Paul says he should have spotted the warning signs but as a 24-year-old had felt 'invincible' and put the fatigue, shortness of breath and cramps down to his party lifestyle.

Paul's sister Karen, mum Agnes and wife Sam visit him in hospital

Paul's sister Karen, mum Agnes and wife Sam visit him in hospital

Having been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, he found himself attending Sheffield's Northern General Hospital - where he praised the 'amazing' staff in the renal unit - thrice weekly for four-hour dialysis sessions.

For seven years, that 'rollercoaster' existence of feeling fine one day and 'rubbish' the next was his life.

After a fruitless wait for a kidney to become available, his sister Karen - a 45-year-old police officer, also from Deepcar - was found to be a suitable match and agreed to go under the knife in 2001.

That operation was a success and transformed Paul's life, freeing him from the weekly chore of hospital appointments and leaving him feeling healthier than he had for years.

Paul with his beloved cockapoo Bertie

Paul with his beloved cockapoo Bertie

After 14 good years that kidney eventually failed after being rejected by his body, as Paul - who explains a transplant is a treatment, not a cure - always knew might happen.

That meant a return to dialysis and a search for a new donor.

Paul's family were again tested and his wife Samantha was ready to undergo the operation, only for his brother Vincent to prove an even better match.

Vincent had been ruled out as a donor back in 2001 because his blood type was different from Paul's, but medical advances meant this was no longer an obstacle and analysis showed his tissue was even better matched to Paul's than Karen's had been.

You might expect Samantha to be relieved at not having to give up a kidney, but Paul says if anything she was slightly disappointed.

She had desperately wanted to be his donor, he says, because having witnessed his ups and downs on a daily basis she knew better than anyone what it would mean to him.

Vincent in hospital after the operation

Vincent in hospital after the operation

One unexpected benefit of getting the family tested was that his mum was diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer and treated for the disease, which could otherwise could have gone undetected for years.

The transplant took place on March 8 this year - which is, ironically, World Kidney Day - and Paul says it has made a huge difference.

"It's given me a completely new lease of life. I didn't realise how unwell I was because feeling ill and lethargic felt like the norm," he explained.

It is the simple pleasures other people take for granted which he had missed most, like taking his dog Bertie for walks around More Hall Reservoir and indulging his passion for photography.

As for food, his celebratory meal consisted rather plainly of beans on toast and a glass of water - two items strictly forbidden while on dialysis.

Paul feels forever indebted to his siblings but, without wishing to downplay their gift, he wants other potential donors to realise it's not as big an ordeal as many people assume.

"People can function perfectly well with one kidney for the rest of their lives and the medics are very well practised at what they do," he says.

Vincent, a 50-year-old spray painter, from Chapeltown, concurs.

The father-of-three, whose youngest daughter is nine, was initially apprehensive but speaking to his sister and reading online testimonies from other donors soon settled his nerves.

"I could see he was really ill so I took him to one side and said I'm willing to take the tests, don't worry about it," he says.

"I'm so glad I've done it. I'm just happy to see him up and about again, and not wasting all those hours each week on dialysis."It makes you feel good about yourself and seeing your brother get his normal life back afterwards is so rewarding."

Vincent was in hospital for four days after the operation and off work for three months, due to the physical demands of his job, but says he is now feeling fine and glad to be back at work.

* Around 5,000 people in the UK are in need of a kidney transplant, and more than 250 patients across the UK died last year waiting for an organ to become available. For more information about becoming a living donor, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk/about-donation/living-donation.

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