Maureen Hendon, 53, has had four kidney transplants since being diagnosed with kidney failure in 1992. She chats to CIARAN KELLY about growing up in Newport, her work as an electoral officer, and her constant battles with kidney failure.
“I WAS born at home in Newport, near Brynglas, in 1961. My parents had moved around and settled there and were happier there than anywhere else.
I had two older brothers, John, who’s now in Kent, and Michael, who’s in Canada. I was a spoilt child.
Both my parents were English: my Mum, Sheila, was from Aldershot and my Dad, Norman, was from Lancashire. Dad worked on the Transporter Bridge and my Mum worked in a number of pubs, including the Bell at Caerleon, as it suited school hours.
I went to St Joseph’s Convent on Stow Hill and St Joseph’s High School in Tredegar. I have fond memories of school and liked English and economics. I know I’m old when both schools are now gone.
I was pretty good at netball around the age of 10, but a couple of years later everyone else got taller and I no longer had that advantage. I also liked playing the recorder.
It was a nice time to grow up in Newport. There were some lovely play areas at Tredegar House and it was great in the 1970s, when Newport City Council had just bought it.
Newport was a friendly place to grow up in. I used to enjoy going to the cinema and socialising and I’ve still got a close friend, Christina, from school who I meet up with regularly.
I left school at the age of 16 as I wanted to work. I was one of 12 taken on in the junior pool at Newport Civic Centre. I was stationed in the chief executive department and, in an era before emails, it really was a hub.
I then moved into electoral work there before becoming an electoral officer at what was then Monmouthshire Borough Council in 1988.
I really enjoyed the election part of it, with that five-week deadline from start to finish. I had so many nights coming back at 5am and 6am, when it was still bright out, but my biggest nightmare was being last on a count and everyone else waiting on us.
The one event I really remember was the 1991 by-election, with Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. It was just so different and he even had his own personalised bank notes. It became a marginal seat after that by-election, so we had lots of national coverage.
I treated every election the same; it was just a job and one that I really enjoyed. That’s why I was always panicking when it came to our moment to declare. We could never be first, as some of the ballot boxes took 90 minutes just to get to the count.
It was in 1992 that I went into kidney failure. It was a total shock – I had never drank a lot and I’d never been particularly overweight – but I was told I had high blood pressure. It seemed unfair.
Had I known it was so high before, I wouldn’t have been such a crash victim. One minute I was fine, the next I was on dialysis. I thought this just happened to older people.
I was 32 at the time and my biggest fear was being in hospital for five hours at the time hooked up to a machine with other ill patients. But, thankfully, I was able to do it at home, which fitted around work.
I was able to do a bag exchange at work and used to tell my colleagues that if I was not back within 30 minutes, I’m asleep. It was so nice and relaxing other than the fluid restriction and not being able to drink a cup of tea when you like.
It even affected things like ice and salads, which are open to the air, so I had to be careful with infections.
As a patient, I never thought what I couldn’t do; it was what I could do. I began doing things I never had, as I wasn’t particularly adventurous before going on dialysis.
I just thought, ‘Why not?’ I did a sky dive, white water rafting, gliding – mad things I wouldn’t even do now.
I waited three years for my first transplant at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary and that lasted for five reasonably good years. I didn’t know it would eventually fail.
I was on so many tablets – for anti-rejection and blood pressure – and was being monitored all the time. Three years on, I had a biopsy and soon realised that a transplant is a form of treatment and not the cure.
It was failing and I was back on dialysis for two years. The next transplant was not good enough to sustain me, so I had to go back on dialysis within two weeks.
Just five days after that operation, it had to be taken out as I had a blood clot in my leg and no blood was getting to my kidney.
By the time 2006 came around, I didn’t want another one but my aunt, Maureen, told me it could be the one. I was so worried about going through the same thing again and it not working.
I still don’t know why that particular one worked, but I’m eternally grateful.
It’s very much luck on how long it will last and I’m monitored every three months. I just remain hopeful before every check-up.
Having the transplant has meant I can do things I never could, like a 2,000 mile motorbike tour across the transporter bridges of Europe in 2011. After visiting the UK transporter bridges, we went to France, Germany, and Spain.
That’s one of the things that stood out and it was also a way of raising money for the Kidney Wales Foundation, too, which is very important to me.
I started the charity walks in 2006 and we’ve had a good turnout each year. We’re always looking for help from those affected by kidney problems and the turnout has grown every year.”