Lucy Humphrey potentially only had a few years to live when she took a trip to the beach with her partner and two dogs.
But thanks to a chance encounter with a stranger “chosen” by one of her pets, her life was saved.
After living with lupus – a condition which causes inflammation to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and joints – for more than a decade and a half, her kidneys failed.
Despite dialysis, in 2019 she was told she might only have five years to live without a transplant.
Shortly before that, Lucy, 44, and her partner Cenydd Owen, 49, both from Caerphilly, bought a campervan to take the dogs, two Dobermans named Jake and Indie, away on the weekend, but their plans to use it were put on hold by treatment.
They had planned a two-day break to Aberystwyth in June 2021 – four-and-a-half years after Lucy’s kidney failure – but she was too unwell to travel that far.
They decided to go to Cold Knap beach in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, instead.
Lucy and Cenydd parked their campervan overlooking the beach and set themselves up with a barbecue with their dogs.
“Indie kept going over to this woman about 100 yards away,” Lucy said.
“She kept going back and forward to her and we kept calling her back, because obviously a big Doberman can be a little bit intimidating.
“We thought she had food or something and Cenydd kept calling her back. In the end we went over to apologise to her.”
The stranger was Katie James, a 40-year-old, from Barry.
She was sat at the beach crocheting and it turned out she didn’t mind Indie going over to her.
“She was actually having quite a bad time herself, so I invited her to our barbecue,” said Lucy.
“She came over, bought some drink over with her, and offered me some.
“Cenydd explained that I couldn’t drink as I was on dialysis. She was like ‘oh what’s that for’, and he said she’s waiting for a kidney transplant.”
Surprised, Katie explained: “Oh I’ve just gone on the kidney donation register!”
“Who are you going to donate your kidney to?” asked Cenydd.
“Anyone who wants it,” Katie replied.
Katie and Lucy swapped numbers and contacted a donor coordinator the next day.
“She had all the tests and it turned out she was a perfect match,” said Lucy.
“A surgeon told us it’s a one in 22 million chance to find the perfect match, and that’s what I needed as I’ve got Lupus.
“The transplant took a little while, as Covid was going on at the time, so it kept being postponed.”
In the lead up, Katie set up a group on WhatsApp called The Kidney Gang.
“All her visits to the hospital she was updating us and sending recorded messages and pictures,” said Cenydd.
“I’ve still got all the recordings and how excited she was that she was doing something good. It’s just mad a total stranger and Lucy’s got her life back.
“For the last five years, she couldn’t drink anything and she was restricted on what she could eat. Now, she can eat and drink what she likes and we’re starting to get our life back to normal.”
Despite complications in the initial weeks afterwards, Lucy said the transplant, which took place on 3 October 2022 at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, was a success.
“We went in together on the Sunday, and on the Monday morning they took us down, took my kidney out, popped it into Lucy and Bob’s your uncle,” said Katie.
“I feel really lucky that I got to know Lucy, I know that its worked and I know that she’s out there living her life. To me, there’s been no negative to it whatsoever.
“I feel really proud of myself, I get embarrassed sometimes though as every time I’m out with my nan she will tell a stranger ‘oh my granddaughter donated a kidney’.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I feel so proud of myself and my family are proud of me.”
“It was the fact that Indie almost sussed her out and chose her,” said Lucy.
“They did tell me a few years back I only had about five years, dialysis doesn’t work forever, and you can only have so many access lines put in as well.
“I really needed this transplant, I’d been on the waiting list for several years. It’s completely changed my life already.”
Cenydd described Katie as a “wonderful, selfless person”.
However, he said: “She doesn’t like my jokes, and said if I don’t stop telling her jokes, she wants her kidney back. She never signed up for my jokes.
“We ended up going to Barry by total chance, meeting Katie by total chance, and Lucy’s ended up with a kidney.
“We want to show that there is always hope for people. Never give in, because you never know, we weren’t even going to go to the beach that day. There’s a lot of good people out there.”
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