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Ross organ donor targets 700-mile French foray to pay debt of gratitude

By Hector MacKenzie

Ready to roll, that's plucky Ernest George
Ready to roll, that's plucky Ernest George

A ROSS-SHIRE man who gave his wife a new lease of life by donating a kidney to her is saddling up for a gruelling 700-mile challenge to help repay a “humbling” debt of gratitude.

The lives of Strathconon couple Ernest and Sarah George were turned upside down more than 12 years ago when a shock diagnosis during pregnancy revealed Sarah only had one kidney, which was damaged.

A life-changing transplant was deemed essential by health chiefs — but with a five-year waiting list, a long period of uncertainty loomed.

How we reported the couple's story last year
How we reported the couple's story last year

Ernest and Sarah, who have two children, Rosie and Alex, ultimately opted for a “living transplant” whereby Ernest would donate one of his healthy kidneys if tests showed it was compatible.

After delays and a last-minute postponement forced by an influx of emergencies on the planned day of surgery, the operation was finally carried out last June — happily proving to be a success.

Touched by the care and lifeline service provided by staff at Raigmore Hospital’s renal unit, Ernest pledged he would do something to try and repay the kindness.

Ernest and Sarah George
Ernest and Sarah George

He is now set to cycle the length of France from Calais to Biarritz — a distance of 700 miles — over the course of eight days.

It has been a busy month for Ernest who runs garden design and construction company, Geo Designs. He has just returned from a successful trip exhibiting at the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show.

While there, the company's stand was awarded a certificate of commendation from the Royal Horticultural Society for the high quality of the presentation and was visited by Prince Charles and Joanna Lumley who both admired the gardening clothes on offer.

Speaking before setting out, he said: “My motivation for this is to highlight the importance and good work of the renal unit at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and the importance of organ donation.

“It is my hope that I can raise enough funds to contribute towards the purchase of a mobile kidney dialysis machine. They are, however, very expensive.

“It is almost a year since Sarah and I had our operation, which happily for us was a success.

“This was a very humbling experience for both of us and we are very grateful to the NHS and for the good work that they do. It is our way of saying thank you in the hope that it will help future kidney patients.”

He already has over £400 in pledges but has high hopes of hitting his £1,000 target.

One well-wisher on the JustGiving page he has set up wrote this week: “You can do it — keep Sarah’s picture on your bike. It worked for you before!”

A spokeswoman for NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) told the Journal: “Around 40 per cent of all kidney transplants in the UK are now from living donors and the numbers are growing.

“Most living donor kidney transplants occur between family members and friends but more people are also recognising that they can donate a kidney without knowing who the recipient is.

“However, not everyone has someone who can donate to them and only some organs can be donated from a living person, so we still need more people to sign up to the organ donor register and talk to their loved ones about donation in the event of their death.

“While almost 40 per cent of the Scottish population is now on the organ donor register, there are still almost 800 people waiting for a transplant in Scotland.”

She said people can help increase the chances of these people getting the transplants they so urgently need by visiting www.organdonation.nhs.uk, calling 0300 123 23 23 or filling out an NHSBT leaflet, which can be found in libraries and GP surgeries.

Anyone wishing to make donations can do so at www.justgiving.com/Ernest-George

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