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British Transplant Games medallist Nicky Clifford celebrates 25 years since kidney transplant

By Alan Smith

Most people live their lives with just two kidneys. Nicky Clifford has three.

Next month will be 25 years since the Maidstone mum-of-two had the transplant which saved her life. Since then, she has been determined to celebrate her second chance by accepting challenges most of us would baulk at.

Alan Smith has been talking to this remarkable woman.

Nicky Clifford won two bronze medals at the World Transplant Games in Argentina
Nicky Clifford won two bronze medals at the World Transplant Games in Argentina

"I guess I was about 22 when I first learned there was something wrong," says the 52-year-old, who lives in Downswood.

"Strangely, I didn't feel ill at all and hadn't noticed any symptoms.

"I was going for a job with Marks and Spencer and as part of the interview process I had to have a full medical. It was then they suggested there was something wrong with my kidneys and I should get it checked out."

She did so and discovered she had the early stages of renal failure. There are many causes of kidney disease - Mrs Clifford's transpired to be an inherited condition.

Nicky Clifford right with her two daughters, Megan, 22, on the left, and Ella, 18, in the centre, both born since her transplant
Nicky Clifford right with her two daughters, Megan, 22, on the left, and Ella, 18, in the centre, both born since her transplant

She said: "Both my mother and father had a defective gene, and although they were well themselves, the combination when they produced me was too much."

The kidneys remove toxins from the body which are then excreted in urine. Without them performing this vital role, the body quickly poisons itself.

Nicky said: "One of the first symptoms I noticed was that I developed a powerful thirst. It was like a compulsion to drink water.

"I likened it to an addiction to drugs. I couldn't pass a tap without having a drink. It was my body trying to dilute the toxins."

Eventually, the time came she had to start dialysis.

"Strangely, I didn't feel ill at all and hadn't noticed any symptoms..." Nicky Clifford

In her case, it involved using the internal lining of the abdomen as an artificial kidney - with the the thin membrane known as the peritoneum being used to draw waste products out of the blood.

In practical terms, it meant Mrs Clifford had to walk around with tubes permanently attached to her stomach. Four times a day she had to drain the waste into a bag and refill her stomach with liquid.

The toll on her health meant she had to resign from her job as a store detective, at that time for Harrods.

However, there was some good news. It was during this period - on June 16, 1993, in fact, that she married her fiancé Antony at All Saints Church in Maidstone. Few of the wedding guests realised that she was still wearing her dialysis tubes underneath her gown.

Just over a year later, came the news that would change everything. A potential transplant was found.

Nicky Clifford and her husband Antony at their wedding on June 26, 1993. Mrs Clifford is wearing her dialysis equipment beneath her wedding gown
Nicky Clifford and her husband Antony at their wedding on June 26, 1993. Mrs Clifford is wearing her dialysis equipment beneath her wedding gown

Mrs Clifford, who now works for Maidstone Borough Council, had to dash to Guy's Hospital in London for the surgery.

She said: "I was in hospital about a week, but I was very lucky. Not only did my body not reject the new kidney, but I was able to pass urine straight away, which is unusual."

Since then, there have been very few hiccoughs. She has a daily dose of medicines to take and she has to have her kidney function regularly monitored, but her health has gone from strength to strength.

She knows nothing about the donor who saved her, other than he was a 35-year-old man killed in a motorbike accident. But she decided she owed it to him to live her life to the full.

She took up sport, competing in the British Transplant Games - a kind of Olympics for people who have received organs - where she has often won bronze, silver and even gold.

Honeymoon in Barbados July 1993. Nicky Clifford who couldn't go in the water because she was having dialysis gets a piggyback from her husband
Honeymoon in Barbados July 1993. Nicky Clifford who couldn't go in the water because she was having dialysis gets a piggyback from her husband

In 2015, she was selected for the GB team and travelled to Argentina to take part in the World Transplant Games, where, after competing with athletes from 50 other countries, she came home with two bronze medals - one for table tennis and one for a 3km power-walking race.

She has also done many fundraising events for charity - notably doing a tandem sky-dive and abseiling 450ft down the side of Guy's Hospital.

But all that is of nothing compared with what she regards as her biggest achievement - giving birth to her two daughters.

She said: "It's not a miracle for someone with a transplant to have a baby, but it is unusual. I had to get clearance from my doctors before we tried.

Nicky Clifford abseiling down Guys Hospital Tower in 2009
Nicky Clifford abseiling down Guys Hospital Tower in 2009

"There are concerns because you still have to take your daily drugs and also with the extra kidney, the baby is lying close to it."

Fortunately all went well, and although both her daughters were small and born a little early they have grown into healthy adults, now aged 18 and 22.

Was there a concern they would inherit her kidney troubles?

Mrs Clifford said: "Well, you do live always looking around the corner, but they have yearly check-ups and everything's been fine."

Nicky Clifford is planning a wing walk over Headcorn
Nicky Clifford is planning a wing walk over Headcorn

In typical Nicky Clifford style, she will mark her silver jubilee by doing a wing-walk on top of a light aircraft.

It is planned for Sunday, July 28, and has three purposes; to celebrate her remarkable 25-year recovery, raise money for Kidney Research UK and Transplant Sport and to sign up 25 new organ donors.

She is hosting a preliminary fundraiser at the Cavendish coffee shop in Bearsted on Saturday, July 6 .

All are welcome to join her for coffee and cake between 10am and noon. Raffle tickets, £1 each, can be purchased via PayPal.me/nicolaclifford

Alternatively, email Mrs Clifford at Nickynoo9@blueyonder.co.uk.

For more real life stories, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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