Every bride remembers how they felt on their wedding day.
But beneath the smile in the pictures of her big day Nicky Clifford was battling with life-threatening renal failure – her dialysis equipment concealed beneath her dress.
Now, 20 years on from a kidney transplant, she is trying to contact the family of the man who gave her back her life, while also hoping to encourage 20 more people to join the organ donor register.
The 46-year-old received the shock diagnosis in 1991, after failing a medical for a new job, despite showing no symptoms apart from tiredness.
Her health quickly deteriorated and she was put on continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis, meaning half-inch wide tubes connected her stomach to a special bag she had to carry around with her.
Four times a day she had to drain and replace the 1.5 litres of dialysis fluid while wearing a mask.
Nicky, an invigilator at St Simon Stock School, said: “I could feel the liquid travelling around my body and it was quite painful.
“I got so used to it I could do it in half an hour, using a coat hanger to make a drip.
“I’ve dialysed in public toilets, in the middle of a field during an Army assault course, and even on a plane when I was flying to Barbados for my honeymoon – that got some strange looks.”
One of the dangers is an infection called peritonitis – and this once saw husband Antony rush her by car to hospital in Canterbury from a holiday in Edinburgh while she lay in the footwell in crippling pain.
Nicky added: “It changed my life. During my wedding breakfast everyone had to stop eating while I went off to dialyse and I had to hide the tubes under my dress.
“I couldn’t have a bath or go swimming, so I was always sat at the edge of the pool on my honeymoon and I fainted a few times because I couldn’t get cool.
“I didn’t look any different but in the end I couldn’t climb the stairs or get dressed.”
Nicky had been on dialysis for around two-and-a-half years, when she got the call she longed for and the transplant took place at Guy’s Hospital in London.
All she knows about her donor is that he was a 35-year-old man who died in a motorbike accident.
But after discovering that the letter she wrote his family had never reached them, she has made it her aim to thank them this year – the 20th anniversary of the transplant.
She added: “I remember sitting in bed with tears falling on the page as I wrote the letter, and it was only five years ago I found out it was still in a filing cabinet.”
Nicky was told she was unlikely to be able to conceive after the treatment, but against the odds she had daughters, Megan, 17, and Ella, 13.
“My children wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. They’re my miracles.”
She has also skydived from a plane, abseiled 450 feet, been a Brownie leader and is currently a Downswood parish councillor.
In August she will be going for gold at the British Transplant Games, where she has competed for more than 16 years in table tennis and power walking.
“I’m trying to live my life for him.”
More information from www.organdonation.nhs.uk.
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