When Nomsa Sibaya’s only kidney began to fail in 2008, her doctor in South Africa told her she needed to urgently find a kidney donor.
Her other kidney had already been removed a few years earlier as a result of an infection.
Nomsa’s condition began to deteriorate – her weight plummeted, her complexion darkened, she was in constant pain and felt exhausted. So Nomsa’s twin sister, Thembi Makhoba, stepped in after being told by doctors she could help by donating one her kidneys.
The twins had always been close. When they were younger, if Thembi was sick Nomsa would be unwell too. So for Thembi, agreeing to be tested as a possible donor was an easy decision, despite resistance from her in-laws on religious grounds.
After passing a series of tests, surgeons removed and transplanted one of Thembi’s organs into Nomsa in October 2012.
Nomsa remembers waking up after the operation:
“It was like I was given a second chance at life. The gift of life.”
But according to the South African Journal of Critical Care, the majority of patients in need of an organ do not have a suitable living donor and the most serious patients end up on a donor waiting list.
Unable to find a compatible living donor, Sandrisha Rugbir is relying on a deceased donor’s organ and has been on the waiting list for seven years.
Diagnosed with renal failure at 21, she has been in limbo ever since.
“You just have to keep the faith and pray every day that one day I will get a call saying that I have a kidney donor, and it is compatible.”
There are 4,300 South Africans awaiting a life-saving transplant but only 0.2% of the country are registered as donors, according to South Africa’s Organ Donation Foundation.
Lack of awareness and cultural taboos are some of the factors that account for the shortage in organ donors.
Silindile Makhwasa, an organ transplant co-ordinator in Durban, says she often gets questions such as: “If I donate my organs to other people when I die, will my ancestors recognise me?”
She regularly holds outreach programmes at shopping centres, universities and churches to address such questions.