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Families shattered by transplant cancer tragedy call for change

Judith Tyreman and Pauline Hunt meeting for the first time (Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)
Judith Tyreman and Pauline Hunt meeting for the first time (Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)

JUDY TYREMAN hugs Pauline Hunt as two women whose lives have been shattered by one terrible transplant tragedy, unite in grief.

Their tears are for each other and their families who have lost everything after a donor’s organs gave Pauline and Judy’s husband the same lethal cancer.

Judy’s husband Tom died from cancer passed on by his liver donor, a cancer so aggressive that, within two months of his transplant, it had travelled to his heart, affected his brain and left him blind.

After the two women had an emotional meeting last week, Judy prays Pauline, who has been diagnosed with the same cancer after getting a kidney from the same donor, is spared that awful anguish.


She said: “I can only pray Pauline does not have to endure that.

“Neither of us should be here today, crying for each other.

“Tom should still be with us, and Pauline should be living her new life.

“Instead we are comforting each other in the only way we can, using all our strength to fight to change the way testing is done in the transplant system, so no other families will ever have to go through this.”

As she wipes away her tears, Pauline has had to accept that the kidney she got from the same donor who gave Tom a liver, is killing her too.

The cancer has already spread to her lymph nodes, and throughout her body.

Too ill for the chemotherapy that might have given her a chance, Pauline is just grateful she was well enough to hold Judy in her arms and meet Tom’s family.

The Ayrshire mum said: “Meeting the family has been an emotional time, but I’m relieved I was well enough to make the journey.

“We share a special bond, a bond nobody else can ever understand.

“It’s brought comfort and sadness, because this should never have happened to any of us.”

Their poignant meeting took place on Wednesday, exactly a year to the day Tom Tyreman checked out of the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, filled with hope the transplant liver would allow him to walk his beloved daughter Emma down the aisle and get back to work.

Judy, 63, said: “Those two things were Tom’s sole focus. It was what kept him going and gave him the strength to go through his operation and get out of hospital in time for Christmas.

“Little did we know that day he left the Freeman, the cancer in his new liver was already attacking his body.

“He never got to take Emma down the aisle, or get back to work.

“Within two months he was gone and we were left in bits, not knowing how or why it happened.

“The transplant team at the Freeman insisted Tom must have had bowel cancer when they operated on him, despite them giving him rigorous tests which gave him the all clear for transplant surgery. We knew in our hearts that what they were telling us wasn’t right.

“But nothing could have prepared us for the truth.”

Pic shows L-R: Emma Tyreman (Tom’s daughter), Judith Tyreman, Pauline Hunt, Gordon Hunt. (Andrew Cawley)

Go-kart racing manager Tom, 63, from Ingleby Barwick, Stockton-on-Tees, had only been on the waiting list for three weeks after battling a fatty liver for almost 10 years.

Judy said: “Tom wasn’t a drinker, so we were shocked when he got the diagnosis. In the last two years he’d gone downhill quite a bit. But he certainly wasn’t at death’s door.

“That’s what makes us so upset. It felt like he was put on the list and got a call so quickly and everything moved at such lightning speed.”

Hundreds of miles away in Kilmarnock, Pauline Hunt, 49, also got a phone call,
telling her to be at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow. She was going to get a new kidney.

Having kidney disease most of her adult life, Pauline had already had one of her own kidney’s removed and was spending many hours each week on dialysis.

She said: “I had wanted a transplant so much. But when the phone call came, I was excited, but scared.”

A 57-year-old woman had died after suffering repeated blood clots.

She had been on the donor list, so transplant teams removed her liver and kidneys.

The liver went to the Freeman in Newcastle. Her kidneys went to the Queen Elizabeth in Glasgow.

Both Tom and Pauline had their transplant on the same day, December 3 last year.

As Pauline sat waiting to go to the operating theatre that day, the young man sitting in the room next door waiting for his new kidney would never know what a lucky escape he had.

He was sent home without a new kidney because surgeons did not like the look of the scarring on one. It was later discovered to be cancerous.

(Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)

Pauline, who used to care for brain injured patients, was given the other kidney…and the donor’s cancer.

She said: “I don’t know who the young lad was in the room next to mine, but for a simple quirk of fate, he could have also been given a kidney that day and he’d be dying of cancer too.

“Instead, he was sent home because the transplant team didn’t like the look of the abnormalities in the kidney.

“If that kidney wasn’t right, why did they go ahead and put the other one into me?

“Both of those kidneys were carrying a death sentence.”

The NHS Blood and Transplant service has told The Sunday Post no other organs from that same donor were used.

Pauline said: “Usually, the transplant team will use all the donated organs. Why didn’t they in this case?

“Was there doubt about the safety of the other organs too? We deserve the truth.”

When Tom Tyreman died on February 5 this year, his post mortem revealed the liver transplant had passed on the donor’s cancer. DNA tests confirmed the cancer was female and came from his liver donor, not Tom. As a result of Tom’s death, Pauline was rushed to the operating theatre two days later on February 7 and had the donor kidney removed.

But it was too late.

She is now fighting the donor’s cancer to stay alive for her beloved husband Gordon, 58, and their families.

The couple brought forward their wedding and married in hospital.

Pauline has told doctors she does not want to know how long she has left to live.

Both families were unaware what had happened to each other until The Sunday Post told Pauline’s story.

They are now determined to fight together to get the truth.

Gordon Hunt said: “I will never stop fighting for my Pauline. I will not stop until we get answers and changes to the system.”

And Judy Tyreman said: “Tom was a quiet man. But if what happened to him had happened to me, he would be fighting for the truth too.”