Five years after their divorce, Dan Pyatt and ex-wife Kelly Hope had the most important disagreement of their lives.
As he lay in Guy’s Hospital, with his kidneys failing and no donor after 12 months on the waiting list, she told him: “I’m going to get tested for a transplant.”
Kelly Hope recalls: “He said to me, ‘I can’t ask you to do that’.
But I told him, ‘It’s not up to you. It’s my decision. I know what the risks are and I’m doing it.’
“Even though we weren’t together any more, I wasn’t prepared to let my children be without a father.
“And Dan is only 44 – he’s got so much more life to lead.”
Dan and Kelly had begun dating at 18 and married 13 years later in 2007 – but less than a year later Dan fell ill with an aggressive type of kidney disease.
Expecting their second daughter, the pair were warned that in 10 years he would need a transplant.
“There were no kidney problems in Dan’s family, he was just unlucky,” says Kelly, 43. “He was always tired and had flu-like symptoms and headaches, but he’s a London taxi driver so at first we put it down to overwork.
“Then on a weekend to Bournemouth when I was pregnant in 2008 he was so unwell he couldn’t get out of the hotel room.”
They went to A&E where a urine sample showed a high level of blood and he was admitted for more tests.
“They couldn’t work out what was wrong. They were talking about leukaemia. We were terrified,” says Kelly.
“Then a consultant thought it might be kidney-related, so Dan was transferred to Guy’s for a biopsy and diagnosed with IgA nephropathy in both kidneys, a build-up of protein which inflames and damages tissue.”
The couple were told there was no cure, but Dan was given medication to protect his kidneys and they made changes to his diet and lifestyle.
He returned regularly to Guy’s to be monitored until, in September 2017, he was told his kidney function had fallen to just 8% and he was put on dialysis and on a deceased donor waiting list.
Sadly, by now their marriage had broken down.
“There was no one else involved, we just weren’t getting on any more, even though we tried and tried,” says Kelly.
“We had different priorities, life pressures, work patterns. I was a PA at the time and Dan was a taxi driver so we were like ships in the night.
“We didn’t just walk away, but in the end we realised we couldn’t keep going around in circles.
“It was making the atmosphere at home horrible. It wasn’t healthy for the children, so we both decided it would be best to separate.”
Kelly stayed in the family home in Bromley, South East London, with daughters Billie and Jeanie, while Dan moved into a flat nearby.
But they were determined not to lose the friendship they’d had since childhood.
“There were lots of times when it was very hard, but we’ve been such good friends such a long time we had to discuss our difficulties and find a way to make it work.”
After their divorce, Kelly still went with Dan to his hospital appointments.
“He was on dialysis three days a week, six hours a day, and it affected his relationship with the girls.
“There was no quality time and it was so upsetting for them to see him really unwell.
“The consultants started to talk to Dan about a transplant, but he wasn’t one for telling family or friends how critical things were.
“After a year on the deceased donor list we hadn’t had one call.
“He was deteriorating badly by then and it became clear to me what I had to do.
“He never asked me. I told him.”
Initial tests showed Kelly was a good tissue match, but their blood didn’t match.
“We had the option of going into a donor pool, where I’d donate to someone, then someone would donate to Dan in return.
“But that only happens two or three times a year with no guarantee of a perfect match.”
They were running out of time so, after considering the risks, they decided on a blood-incompatible transplant which involves removing antibodies from the blood to prevent rejection.
“We were really open with our girls about it because we didn’t want them scared.
“On the day in August 2018 they were with us in Guy’s.
“It was so emotional. We sat with Dan for a while, and he told me ‘Good luck Kel, thank you so much’.
“Then the girls waved me off to theatre. I could see how worried they were, trying to smile, and I had to be strong for them.”
The op was a success, and Dan was discharged just five days later.
“He bounced out of there, you could see the difference immediately,” says Kelly.
With Dan on anti-rejection tablets, and able to return to work, they spent a happy Christmas as a family with their girls, now 16 and 11, and enjoyed a holiday in France.
“Everyone says to us, ‘Surely you’ll get back together now?’ but it’s brought us closer in a different way,” Kelly insists.
“At Guy’s they said they’d never had an ex donate, but everyone’s relationship is different. When we split we were able to save the best parts of our relationship and rebuild from that.