A BROTHER has gone under the knife to give his little sister the gift of life.
Sarah Laing, 21, has thanked big brother Mark Laing, 35, after he donated a kidney when doctors faced a race against time to save her.
She has endured a lifetime of hospital visits when, at 18 months old, she was diagnosed with cystinosis, a rare genetic disease that affects just one in 250,000 people.
Since the kidney she received in a previous transplant began failing three years ago, Sarah, from Moorside, has undergone dialysis four times a week at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
But the treatment has taken its toll on her and doctors were using the last viable access line into her heart to administer the treatment.
They warned that once that failed there would be nothing more they could do for her.
Mark, who lives and works away from Sunderland, stepped forward to save his sister, undergoing a six-hour operation to donate a kidney.
Sarah said: “I’m really grateful to him but it feels strange not going to hospital anymore because I’m so used to it.
“I’m glad the operation went well.”
Mum Anne, who lives with Sarah in Marlow Drive, faced an heart-breaking wait in June as two of her children underwent operations at the same time.
“It was horrendous,” she said. “Sarah was on one side of the Freeman Hospital and Mark was on the other.
“I must have lost about a stone in weight running between the two.
“It wasn’t really a tough decision for Mark to make, he was her only hope and we are eternally grateful to him.”
Cystinosis occurs when an amino acid produced during metabolism called cystine accumulates in cells.
In most bodies the amino acid is carried out by the cell, but in people with cystinosis it cannot be transported out.
Instead, it builds up to 100 times the normal level and forms crystals which eventually destroy the cell.
Damage can be caused to organs such as the kidneys, eyes, muscles, pancreas and brain.
In the past it was rare for cystinotics to survive into adulthood but with better understanding and earlier diagnosis, it is possible for sufferers to lead a longer, fuller life.
There is no known cure, but medicines are available to help manage the condition on a daily basis.
Sarah’s cystinosis led to the failure of her kidneys at a young age, but after Mark’s donation she is hoping she can inject some normality in her life.
Anne said: “Sarah is still on 64 tablets a day but only has weekly hospital visits instead of going four times a week.
“We are hoping that she can lead a normal life.
“Everything is going well with the transplant but there is no guarantee her body won’t reject it.”
Former St Anthony’s School pupil Sarah said: “I would probably be bouncing off the walls if I hadn’t had a transplant before but I feel the same as I did last time.
“I’m just hoping this one works and that I can enrol on a course. I hope people reading this think about signing the Organ Donor Register.”
*To donate to the Organ Donor Register visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk.