When Lorraine Pooley’s dad died at the age of 36, she could not predict the impact it would have on her life.
Then just 11 years old, it was Lorraine who discovered her dad, Leonard Stanley Thornley, had died at their home in Brinscall.
She said: “I woke up in the middle of the night and he was sleeping downstairs with my brother, Simon, who was three at the time. I heard my brother crying. I went downstairs and found my dad dead.”
Leonard, who was superintendent at Brinscall Baths, died of an aneurysm caused by polycystic kidney disease - a condition he had no idea that he had.
He left his pregnant wife and five children. His youngest child, Melissa, was born a month after his death.
Lorraine, now 52, said: “His legacy was that after he died, we were all screened, including the baby.
“I was found to have a ureter tube obstruction in my left kidney. We had to organise for me to have an operation a few months later.
“If he hadn’t died, I would have lost that kidney when I got older. It might have changed my life forever.”
As the oldest child, Lorraine had been very close to her dad and suffered more heartbreak when two of his brothers and his sister died as a result of the same condition.
Polycystic kidney disease is a life-threatening condition that can cause renal failure and affect other organs in the body.
She said: “It was awful. They obviously weren’t told to get checked after my dad died.
“It’s sad that because they didn’t know about it, they couldn’t take any preventative action.”
Lorraine grew up, got married and had three children – Nicola, now 27, Jenny, 26, and Tom, 24.
She rarely thought about polycystic kidney disease – until Nicola started suffering water infections and doctors asked if there was a history of kidney problems in the family.
Lorraine said: “I said my dad died of polycystic kidney disease and they said it was hereditary.
“We all got screened again and four out of the six brothers and sisters had it.
“It was hard as I had three children and I knew it was hereditary. I was worried about the effect it could have on my kids.”
Lorraine, of Chapel Street, Brinscall, developed a cyst on her kidney when she was 24 years old, but it was a decade later when she started having real problems.
She said: “I started to get changes, with my stomach swelling a little bit when I was in my late 30s.
“As I got in my 40s, I started to put a little bit more weight on and the cysts were bigger and growing. I also had a cyst on my liver.
“I ached a lot and had a lot of discomfort and back pain.”
In 2008, Lorraine started to go into renal failure and the fluid built up in her body.
“I looked like I was pregnant,” she said.
She was given medication but in 2010, doctors told her they would have to remove one or both of her kidneys.
It was then that her youngest sister, Melissa Wilding, offered to donate her kidney to Lorraine.
She had previously offered to give a kidney to another sister, Sarah, who instead received an organ from her partner.
Lorraine said: “I was worried for her and didn’t want anything to happen to her because of me.”
The first step took place in October 2011, when Lorraine was admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary for her kidneys to be removed.
The amount of fluid in her body meant doctors decided to remove just one kidney and complications meant she almost died on the operating table.
Lorraine said: “When I came round, I had so much fluid in my body, My legs were three times the size they should have been – they were massive.”
She was very ill and was put on dialysis.
Lorraine’s condition slowly improved and she was discharged from hospital four-and-a-half weeks later, but found it difficult to adjust to life at home.
“The panic attacks started and the anxiety attacks,” she said. “I couldn’t really speak to anyone other than my family. I had a real need to have my family around me.”
Lorraine had to go to Royal Preston Hospital for dialysis three times a week, spending four hours there each time.
It was tough at first, as they worked to get her prescription right, but Lorraine then tried to make the most of the time on dialysis.
She said: “I talked to people on my bay and we were the noisiest bay on the ward.
“I used to go in and loved talking to the other patients. We became a family in a sense.
“I bought myself an iPad and I took a picnic with me.
“That’s what I did to make my four hours go.”
Unfortunately, Lorraine developed a hernia, but doctors could not remove it in case it affected the transplant.
Eventually, in January last year, it was confirmed that Melissa’s kidney was suitable and a date for the transplant was set – February 14, Valentine’s Day.
Lorraine said: “We were just elated. It was a feeling of happy and worried and a bit scared. It was a bit of everything.”
Melissa, 41, who lives in Abbey Village, was taken to surgery at 8.30am and everything went to plan.
“The surgeon said he had the kidney and it was looking good. He said they would be coming to get me,” Lorraine said.
The transplant went well and a few hours later, Lorraine was awake and recovering. She said: “I was chattering away and they couldn’t shut me up.
“I said I felt great. My cheeks were red. My children couldn’t believe what they could see.
“It was like a breath of fresh air – an utterly brilliant feeling.”
Melissa was released from hospital five days after the operation and Lorraine was discharged two days later.
Lorraine said: “I recovered really well from that. I went on anti-rejection drugs though, which did have an effect on me.”
Five months later, Lorraine was in surgery again for the removal of the hernia - which turned out to be a double hernia.
She is now on the road to recovery and will continue to have regular check-ups, especially as she still has one polycystic kidney, a polycystic liver and lasting effects from the hernia.
But she is positive about the future.
Lorraine said: “I’m here and I’m feeling good.
“My daughter is getting married in May and I didn’t think I would be here for that. I have come a long way.”
She held a party on Friday to celebrate the first anniversary of the transplant and support fundraising appeal Kidneys For Life.
Among the guests at Brinscall Athletics Club were her family, her surgeon and friends she has made in hospital.
Lorraine is now encouraging people to follow in her sister’s footsteps and consider becoming an organ donor.
She said: “I can’t put into words what Melissa means to me. She has given me my life back. She is brave and selfless.
“We need more people to donate.
“I would still be waiting for a kidney if it wasn’t for Melissa and other people are still waiting.”
Lorraine hopes to work in the kidney field when she recovers and is offering support to any kidney patients looking for someone to speak to.
She can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.