NO one knows the importance of organ donation more than Pauline Birch and her daughter Jennie Smith.
Mrs Birch did not hesitate when she was given the go-ahead by doctors to donate her own healthy kidney to her husband Jim, whose only remaining kidney was not functioning properly.
It meant they were able to spend four happy years together, living life without the need for three sessions of dialysis a week at Royal Bolton Hospital.
And the former policeman looked and felt happy and healthy as he proudly walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding and then welcomed grandson Finley, now aged two, into the world. It was all thanks to the kidney donation from his wife.
Despite being plagued by ill health for many years, having been diagnosed with kidney problems in his 20s, suffering two strokes when his daughter was 15, heart problems and skin cancer before his death two years ago, he never complained.
Now, mother and daughter are backing the Sign Up To Save Lives campaign — launched by The Bolton News in January to get 5,000 people in Bolton on the organ donor register.
Mrs Smith, a barrister, aged 34, said: “He was really poorly. He had polycystic kidney disease which is a hereditary disorder. He was on kidney dialysis for four years which was horrible.
“He couldn’t do anything. Not once ever did he moan. I never once heard my dad feel sorry for himself. He was fed up because he was poorly but not once would he suggest he was hard done to.
“When he died, the one thing repeated in all the cards was he was a gentleman and a gentle man. He was the most kind, most gentle man.”
As well as paying tribute to her dad, who died on March 28, 2012, at the age of 59, Mrs Smith has also praised her mum for managing to keep smiling despite suffering heartache.
Last month, the 60-year-old from Sharples was named winner of Market Place’s Mother’s Day competition, scooping a luxury two-night spa break thanks to her “fantastic attitude to life”.
Mrs Smith said: “My dad would be as proud as I am, he was ill for so long. You never forget but life goes on.”
It was 2007 and the same year as the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary when they were admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary for the transplant operation.
Mrs Birch, who worked at Lloyds TSB in Bolton town centre for 30 years before retiring, said: “I just wanted him to get better. I was quite poorly but I was only in hospital for four days.
“The good thing was by giving him his transplant, we had four years of not having to go to the hospital three times a week.
“We had a couple of holidays. We had actually gone away while he was on dialysis but it was nice to have a normal holiday.”
Mrs Smith added: “He only had one kidney but it didn’t work properly. I remember, they were in two separate rooms but on the same ward.
“My mum was so calm going into surgery. My dad was really worried and overwhelmed by what she was doing for him.
“Afterwards, he sat up in bed, eating cornflakes. He had colour in his face and had kidney function.”
Having been ill for 17 years, his health improved immediately and Mr Birch was beaming when he gave his daughter away on July 3, 2010, when she married Kieron.
Mr Birch needed open-heart surgery in December, 2011, and was diagnosed with skin cancer the following month, from which he died three months later.
Despite still having sad times, the family has managed to carry on with life and Mrs Smith welcomed a second son, Rowan, now aged nine weeks, and Mrs Birch finding solace through joining The Eden Singers choir, formed by Bolton vocal coach Adrian Yapp.
Mrs Birch said: “It really gives you a lift. I don’t think I’m a good singer, but I’ve made some lovely friends.”
The pair would also like to see a system of presumed consent for organ donations after having experienced the difference it made to Mr Birch, who worked as a policeman in Bolton for 30 years, based at Astley Bridge and in the town centre.
Currently, people across the UK join a voluntary scheme and carry a card if they wish to donate organs but this system, being introduced in Wales in 2015, would see consent assumed unless people have opted out.
Mrs Birch said: “Presumed consent would be so much better.”
To Sign Up To Save Lives, go to the NHS organ donor register at organdonation.nhs.uk, call 0300 1232323 or text SAVE to 62323, or for more information, visit kidneyresearchuk.org.