Nokuphila Primary School’s Principal: how one life can change hundreds
It’s a sad irony that South Africa is a leader in the field of organ transplantation but has one of the lowest deceased organ donor rates in the world (1.4 donors per million population), with approximately 5,000 South African adults and children awaiting a life-saving organ and cornea transplant. But why are the number of donors decreasing and what can be done to bring awareness and better understanding around organ transplants to the people of South Africa?
“I had a kidney transplant nearly eight years ago to the day on the 10th of August 2013.”
Themba Temba, the Principal of Nokuphila Primary School, shares his insight on this as a recipient of a kidney transplant.
Unknowingly living with kidney issues
In 2002 Themba started having migraines and headaches which he assumed was just a normal headache, only to later find out that he was developing high blood pressure. The general practitioner only prescribed painkillers until late 2002 when he was sent for a brain scan, but they couldn’t find anything. That’s when a specialist diagnosed him with hypertension. But it was too late: his kidneys were damaged but the doctors were still not aware of this fact because they didn’t test his creatinine levels. So, for the next seven years, Themba lived with badly damaged kidneys until 2009.
Crushed dreams and rediscovered courage
At a medical checkup for a job opportunity doctors discovered that both Themba’s kidneys were suffering from chronic failure. The diagnosis was bleak. Themba was understandably shocked; despite not feeling sick at the time, to find out that he was basically at death’s door if he didn’t immediately start with treatment.
Themba needed to start with dialysis to clean his blood of harmful toxins that his kidneys weren’t able to do anymore. So, he researched the various types of dialysis methods available and chose peritoneal dialysis as this had fewer restrictions than hemodialysis which he started in December of 2011. For the next two years, Themba had to do dialysis every four hours, every day, in a closed, hyper hygienic room and on a restricted diet. Imagine compartmentalising your life into four hours or less every day for two years. So, as you can imagine, Themba did not have much of a life. When they called him that day in August 2013 to let him know they had found a donor he was number 4,750 on the waiting list. And now nearly eight years ago to the day on the 10th of August 2013 he had the kidney transplant.
The priceless gift of life
According to Themba, two years isn’t that long when compared to people who have been on dialysis for 15 years. He thanks God for the family that chose him from the list and donated their child’s kidney to him. Despite having to take medication (such as immunosuppressants that help prevent his body from rejecting the transplant) and being more at risk for things such as Covid-19, Themba lives a normal life. A life that he dedicates to uplifting children and the community at large through his role as principal at Nokuphila Primary School. Thanks to the selfless act of one family, Themba is now able to change the lives of hundreds of families in his community.
Words of hope and encouragement
Themba believes that a large reason why more people aren’t donors are related to cultural and religious beliefs, as well as a lack of understanding of organ donation and the process involved. “That is why we need to educate our communities,” says Themba, “because it’s about saving lives. I would say to people who’d like to donate any organ, to please register with an organ donor foundation. You could save seven lives and transform up to 50!”
To people who are waiting for transplants themselves, Themba emphasised the importance of taking their medication and to not give up hope. They aren’t just going through physical trauma but emotional and psychological anguish as well. The temptation to give in and give up is overwhelming. Themba hopes his story encourages others to keep hoping, to wait patiently, continue with their medication, keep visiting their doctors and try to lead a healthy lifestyle – it’s tough but all of this increases your chances of receiving a transplant organ.