Speaking to Cally is effortless. There is a bustling energy and enthusiasm that naturally flows from her voice as she tells us about the race to Christiaan Barnard Hospital in Cape Town to receive a life-saving kidney transplant last month.
My colleagues all call me ‘ma’ – meet the hero nurse who drove through the night to get her patients to life-saving surgery
“I was on my way home from my dialysis session when I got the call,” the 29-year-old from Gamble, Uitenhage, tells us, choking up while reliving that moment. “I couldn’t believe it,” she continues. "I was filled with so many emotions. I started crying, then I started stressing."
Cally had to be at the hospital by 06h00 the next morning, and her only transport option was to travel by car. She first called Mercia, her aunt, who has been like a mother to her ever since the passing of her own mother 19 years ago.
When Sister Salome Siebritz, a nurse at Cuyler’s renal care unit whom Cally has known for almost eight years, said she was happy and eager to drive her to Cape Town through the night, her anxiety grew into excitement.
Cally met Siebritz three years after she had started dialysis treatment and tells us that she has since played a significant, motherly role in her life and always stood by her on her off days.
Life on dialysis
Dialysis consumed a lot of Cally’s time – at three times per week and four hours per session, her quality of life had deteriorated.
“Every session left me feeling so drained. I had no energy. That’s what dialysis does to you. And you can’t fall asleep at night. Having a full-time job meant I had to attend dialysis after work and I’d get home around 22h00. My entire day was gone.
“Being on dialysis for that long also limits your independence. There were things I could no longer do, or found difficult to do, since I started the treatment. It took me some time to get used to the fact that I had to rely on a machine to sustain my life.”
Sleep disorders are common in patients receiving dialysis, and up to 75% of CKD patients experience symptoms of insomnia. Cally was barely coping and struggled to find time to spend with her eight-year-old daughter, Chloe.
Chloe was just six months old when Cally realised all was not well. Her face began to swell, she lost her appetite, she had restless nights – it turned out she was experiencing symptoms of chronic kidney disease (CKD), and when she collapsed a few weeks later, she was admitted to ICU and was told that her kidneys were shrinking.
“I was 21 and a new mother, and suddenly dialysis became this huge part of my life.”
Strong support system
Cally powered through despite being marred by cycles of sleeplessness and drained of energy, and says she drew courage and hope from her faith, family and friends when times were difficult. But she knew only a transplant would give her a good chance of leading a normal life again.
“I must admit, there were times I felt very bleak about my situation because I know the chances of receiving a kidney are slim, but because I had the support of so many people, and knew I had to fight to live for my daughter, the despondency was always short-lived.”
The drive through the night, she recalls, was an intense but exciting one, although she was strictly encouraged by Siebritz to get some rest. They arrived just in time for the surgery, and after a few tests Cally was ready for the transplant. The transplant took a short four hours and by 12:00, she had woken up to the news of a successful transplant.
“My immediate feeling was gratitude to God. I couldn’t believe it. I was lying there in a lot of pain, yet it was the best day of my life. It’s been a dream of mine all these years to have a new kidney and to live a normal life again.”
Sister Salome Siebritz (left), Cally Williams (centre) and Mercia Williams (right) take a selfie just before the successful kidney transplant.
“To my organ donor all the way in heaven, thank you for giving me a second chance at life.”
Her gratitude extends to so many others, including her father, who initially proved to be a match in 2014. However, when they got to Cape Town tests revealed that the state of his kidneys meant that a donation would turn out to be detrimental to his own health.
Her appreciation for Mercia, Siebritz, the staff of Cuyler hospital, and everyone that contributed towards the fund to get them to Cape Town leaves her at a loss for words.
“I realise how blessed I am. Their support kept me going for so many years and got me the life-saving transplant I needed,” she says.
While she no longer experiences any pain post-transplant, she has been instructed to remain indoors and to wear a face mask when she has visitors due to her weak immune system and current risk of infection.
Her transplant has given her a new lease on life and she wants things to go back to the way they once were. Finding a new job and furthering her studies are top priorities.
“I’m trying my best to take good care of myself. I received this gift of a new chance at life and I won’t take it for granted.”