`What has colour got to do with life or death?'

Click to follow
FOR FOUR hours a day, three days a week, 32-year-old Stephen Kingsbury lies in his hospital bed and watches the blood drain out of his arm.

His veins are so worn by dialysis doctors fashioned new ones for both arms from Gore-Tex, the fabric used for rainproof jackets, to continue the "washing" of his blood while the hunt for a kidney stretches into its 10th year.

In yesterday's session, the equivalent of 50 litres of blood was drained from his arm and recycled through the mechanical kidney squatting next to his bed in the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, east London.

The machine and the host of tubes that stretch from his bruised forearm like gorged leeches are a depressing necessity. Without dialysis he would be seriously ill within 48 hours; dead within five days.

News that patients like him may have their transplant chances reduced through conditional organ donation does not go down well: "It's bang out of order. It's just not acceptable. What the hell has colour got to do with whether someone lives or dies? A kidney's a kidney whatever colour you are. We're all the same inside anyway," he said.

"Obviously I can't donate a kidney but when I die I don't mind who my eyes and lungs go to. It doesn't matter what colour they are. If people saw what it was like to be hooked up to a machine like this week in, week out, for years, and I mean years, they would think twice before saying who could have what."

He is one of 800 patients at the biggest renal unit in the country. Almost one-fifth of those on "the list" for kidneys are served by this unit. This ward sees 60 patients a day and yesterday people of almost every race which makes up the East End were hooked up to their machines.

"Oh, it's like the United Nations in here, for sure," said one senior doctor. "When you talk about multi-culturalism in the UK just take a look at this place."

Rationing kidneys on the basis of colour carried no weight here. The unit's head, Dr Martin Raftery, said: "In 19 years in this field I have never received a kidney or any other organ with conditions attached to it. We match tissue, not skin colour."

One patient, a former Ford worker, has been waiting for a kidney for 21 years. The 42-year-old Asian did not wish to give his name. His only respite from dialysis was in 1986 when new drugs meant he could accept a kidney from his sister without rejection. It failed four years later.

"My daughter died from a brain tumour when she was four. It was terrible but it did not stop me from donating all her organs in the hope that someone could live. How can you deny life in this fashion to someone who needs it? I am sure that the incident in Sheffield was isolated. It can't be a widespread view, can it?"

It may not have been but it may encourage racists, according to Dr Raftery.

"Before it may not have been an idea that even occurred to these kinds of people. Now that it's out in the open, I do harbour some concern that they willlatch on to it. It's the last thing we need, the last thing."