TRANSPLANT LIFESAVER: Lochalsh minister Roddie on the road to recovery after his wife Margaret donated one of her kidneys

Roddie and Margaret at home in Badicaul, Lochalsh. Pic, Willie Urquhart

Thanks to a kidney transplant from his wife Margaret, Lochalsh minister Roddie Rankin no longer has to receive debilitating dialysis treatment. JACKIE MACKENZIE heard their story….. 

A Lochalsh minister has been given a new lease of life thanks to the skill of surgeons and a very precious gift from his wife – a healthy kidney.

The Rev Roddie Rankin, the Free Church minister at Plockton and Kyle, is well on the road to recovery from a transplant operation after his wife Margaret donated one of her kidneys.

Roddie, a dad of three, had a diseased kidney removed in July 2020 with the intention of going on to have transplant surgery. His remaining kidney was also deteriorating. 

However, he was too weak to undergo the operation and was at times dangerously ill with extremely high blood pressure and other complications, all the while receiving dialysis three times a week in Broadford hospital.

But, when his health stabilised sufficiently, Roddie and Margaret made the journey from their home at Badicaul, near Kyle, to Edinburgh for the surgery which was to transform his life.

“I’m completely thankful and indebted to Margaret,” said Roddie. Pic Willie Urquhart

The two operations, involving a large team of top surgeons and skilled theatre staff, took place at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 2nd September – a four hour operation to remove Margaret’s kidney and then a second one immediately after to transplant the organ into Roddie’s body.

Margaret was found to be a medical match for Roddie after earlier undergoing blood and kidney function tests.

“We were not a perfect match but a good enough match to go ahead with the transplant, which was amazing,” said Margaret.

“It was a big decision but it was a no brainer and once I had made the decision that was it. You can function perfectly well with one healthy kidney.

“Although dialysis keeps you going, Roddie really wasn’t well on it. You can exist, but you’re not leading a life.”

Roddie (56), who has been minister at Plockton and Kyle for 32 years, had been suffering kidney deterioration over a long period of time.

“I knew I was going to be facing kidney failure,” he said. “It came to the point where my two kidneys together were only working at eight per cent, so at that stage I really had to go on dialysis and then had one kidney removed. 

“The kidney is an amazing organ but when it stops working, a lot goes wrong. You go from being a person accustomed to health to being chronically unwell. It’s a shock when your body won’t work the way you want it to, whether it be cognitive or physical.”

During months of illness, he suffered from anaemia, phenomenally high blood pressure and brittle bones which resulted in several fractures.

The toxins in his blood, as a result of his under-performing kidneys, left him with terrible itchiness on his skin as well as restlessness.

“It’s like being goaded all the time internally to move and you continually feel restless,” explained Roddie. “Some people get restless legs at night but with kidney disease you have it all the time.”

The high blood pressure meant he had difficulty concentrating which left him unable to write or even pray.

“I had this brain fog and I would either fall asleep or just gaze into space,” said Roddie. 

But at last, Roddie was well enough for the surgery which came with a 10 per cent risk that his body would reject the organ.

However, he felt the benefits of his new healthy kidney immediately after coming round from the anaesthetic.

“The first thing I noticed after the surgery was that my head was clear for the first time in a long time,” said Roddie. “I just got up and said ‘Hey, I’m feeling pretty good here!’”

Within two days he was off all painkillers and six days after transplant surgery he was home in Badicaul.

He said: “The surgeons were absolutely amazed how well Margaret’s kidney was filtering and functioning in my body after the surgery. The toxins in my blood came down very quickly and I now have kidney function of 60-70 per cent whereas I had only three to four per cent with the one diseased kidney. There are many different symptoms that disappear very quickly once you have a working kidney.”

Roddie admitted there were times when he came close to despair during his illness, because of the multiple health issues, pain and his inability to think clearly.

But he said the love of his family and his strong faith, together with the support from the church and local community, helped him through.

“As a Christian I don’t believe death is the end and there were times during my illness when I thought I might be about to die,” he said. “What made me fight was not fear of death but to have a life and my family and to stay here for them.”

Roddie said the surgery had been harder for Margaret who lost an organ, whereas he gained one, and her recovery took a bit longer.

“I’m completely thankful and indebted to her and it’s another reason to cement our relationship,” he said.

“Another thing is how much she and the family were traumatised by my near death experiences and the distress I was in. It’s the old adage – it’s harder to watch someone suffering than to suffer yourself because the person watching feels absolutely helpless.”

Although Roddie still has checks from his consultant and is on anti-rejection medication, he hopes to be back ministering to his congregation in early January.

“What made me fight was not fear of death but to have a life and my family and to stay here for them,” said Roddie. Pic Willie Urquhart

He said he feels honoured to have received such wonderful care from the NHS but is also mindful of the friends he made while undergoing dialysis in Broadford and who for various reasons cannot have a transplant.

“I’m very conscious of the privilege I have because so many of my fellow patients don’t have that opportunity and will be on dialysis for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Margaret, who was home four days after her operation, went back to work as a dentist in Kyle a fortnight ago and has also taken up running again.

She said: “I had some wound pain for two weeks and can still feel a bit tired but apart from that I’m fine. It was all very straightforward.

“The surgery has been absolutely amazing for Roddie. It’s been totally life-changing. It’s like a whole new lease of life he’s been given and we were laughing with joy.”

Roddie is enjoying quality time with Margaret and the family, Kenny (27) who lives in Glasgow, and Ally (24) and Brighde (20) who live at home.

And with so many foods being off the menu because of the special diet Roddie had to adhere to he says he is enjoying the simple pleasures – “Christmas cake and a good tattie”.