Rachael Hogg has had two kidney transplants. Andrew Thomas talks to her about her experiences and a new organ transplant law that she believes will save lives.

Racheal Hogg has had more than her fair share of medical problems over the years.

But with support from family – including husband Chris, who donated one of his kidneys to her – she continues to lead an incredibly active life.

And she is passionate about doing what she can to try to ensure as few people as possible die while waiting for an organ donation.

Rachael, now 52 and living in Kendal, was born in Whickham, near Newcastle. She wanted to be a horse riding instructor and studied Equestrianism and Business Studies at North Tyneside College of Further Education.

She started work at the London Equestrian Centre but caught a virus during a trip to Italy. She was told there was only a 2,000 to one chance of the virus affecting her organs but a medical a year later for a forthcoming Camp America trip revealed both her kidneys were failing.

She ended up on dialysis before having her first kidney transplant in 1990 at the age of just 21.

How did it affect her? “Sometimes when you are younger you just get through it but I did so with the support of my family – my parents looked after me,” she said.

The donor, she discovered, was a 46-year-old woman from Nottingham, who had died of a brain haemorrhage. Rachael wrote to the lady’s family to thank them.

After the transplant she had a new lease of life, doing office work for HM Revenue and Customs and retraining as an aerobics teacher. “Generally I was really, really well,” she said.

She met Chris in 1996 at a night club in Newcastle. He was working for the National Trust at Hill Top in the Lake District. The couple married in 1998 and moved to South Lakeland.

But health-wise, things eventually started to go wrong. Tests revealed she had gone into renal failure. “It was a difficult time. It felt like I was wading through treacle. I always knew it could happen. I thought I had been lucky because I had had the new kidney for 26 years.”

She was being sick most days, had little energy and was losing weight because of loss of appetite. Once again she went on the organ donor waiting list.

At this point Chris decided he would go to be tested as a possible kidney donor. “I did not think he would be a match,” said Rachael. “I was not aware he even had the same blood group as me.”

But it turned Chris was a match and an operation was scheduled. “I never asked him. It was Chris’s idea completely to get tested. I think it was because of the worry of me going back on dialysis and that something might have happened to me. I was not sure I wanted him to go through with it. I felt guilty in case anything happened to him.”

After a series of medical tests and psychological interviews, Chris had his kidney removed and it was transplanted into Rachel during a six-hour operation in February 2016.

The operation was a success. “I suppose he saved my life but I cannot keep dwelling on it,” said Rachael. “It makes me feel guilty because if anything happened to his remaining kidney it would be disastrous.”

After Chris became mayor in 2015 he pledged to get an extra 1,000 people on the organ donor register and together with Glenys Marriott, the couple set up Kendal Organ Donor Town. “We went around talking to people and encouraging them to join the organ donor register. We did Westmorland County Show, Torchlight and even went into Barclays Bank and by the end of the year there were 1,086 more people on the register.”

And Kendal was named the country’s first organ donor town.

“There are too many people dying waiting for a transplant - we lost 400 people in the UK last year,” said Rachael. “It is so sad. I was lucky. I had two transplants and I am still alive.”

She welcomes Max and Keira’s Law, which comes into force next month. It is named after Max, who received a heart transplant from a girl called Keira and means adults in England are now considered potential donors unless they choose to opt out or are excluded.

Racheal is convinced it will save lives but points out a person’s family can have the final say about whether organs can be removed. “We are encouraging people to have a conversation with their family and to say: ‘If anything happens to me, I want my organs to be donated’. I understand it can be too upsetting when someone dies for a family to make a decision about organ donation but having that conversation makes it easier for them. It is like the person’s last will and testament.

“You could save up to seven lives if your organs are donated.”

She hopes this kind of conversation will become the norm and that the issue will be discussed in schools.

“You never know what is around the corner. If you are happy to receive an organ you should be happy to give one. It saves lives,” she said.

Rachael remains active, working at Westmorland General Hospital and serving as a Kendal and South Lakeland councillor, although she is currently working from home because she is one of the people who fall into the more vulnerable category during the coronavirus pandemic. She has won an individual tennis gold medal and other volleyball medals at the British Transplant Games. She also helps with Kendal Organ Donor Town weekends, where children who have had transplants and their families take part in sporting activities in Kendal and can talk through shared experiences.

How has she maintained her positivity throughout her many ordeals? “I am just one of those people who gets on with things,” she replied.

You can find out more about Kendal Organ Donor Town on its Facebook page or on Twitter - @organdonortown