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Paramedic Michelle became kidney donor while working and studying through pandemic

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A Barry woman is celebrating her graduation today which marks the culmination of an academic, professional and personal journey where she qualified as a Paramedic while working for the NHS through the pandemic and became part of a kidney donation exchange that helped her grandniece recover from serious illness.

Michelle Morgan, 52, was working full time as an Emergency Medical Technician at Barry Ambulance station, when she decided to further progress her career by becoming a fully qualified Paramedic. She joined the Dip HE Paramedic Science for Emergency Medical Technicians conversion course at Swansea University in 2019. However, only a few months into her studies, the pandemic hit the UK.

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Michelle said: “As the pandemic hit, I found it very surreal with lots of uncertainty and new territory for everyone. Whilst I ensured I maintained keeping myself up to date with new information, guidelines and working practices at work, I was also undertaking the conversion course as well. The university was also adjusting and adapting to continue to provide its high level of educational support, which was testing time for lecturers as well as the individual learners.

“I did struggle with the lack of face-to-face learning and wasn’t the best for keeping myself disciplined with allocating my learning time, but I’m also exceptionally pleased with myself that I achieved my qualification and able to graduate with my cohort.”

As Michelle was facing these challenges, in August 2020, her grandniece, Keely Morgan, who was 12 and about to start high school, was diagnosed with severe kidney failure. This diagnosis was a shock to the entire family as it was detected via a blood test request following a few symptoms. Due to the severity of her poor kidney function, Keely was immediately placed on a dialysis programme and the kidney transplant list. Several family members including Michelle, underwent intensive screening, but unfortunately none of them were a match.

However, Michelle and Keely were offered the opportunity to join a shared pool for kidney exchanges, although they were told this could take some time to find a suitable match. Then, at the beginning of September 2021, Michelle received confirmation that they had been successfully matched. Unusually, there were 3 families involved in the transplant exchange who were based across the UK and so the process would involve multiple hospitals and take place on the same day – in just 2 weeks’ time.

Michelle said: “Initially I was in shock as I honestly expected the process of finding a suitable match to take months, even years. As a result, I hadn’t informed my employer or the university.

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“I immediately spoke with my Locality Manager Alan Thomas, my Duty Operational Manager Kath Morgans and Practice Placement Manager, Paul Mayze, who all were amazing and exceptionally supportive.

“However, there was a chance that I would have to defer my studies, which caused me some emotional anguish, but then the Head of Paramedic Sciences, Nikki Williams stepped in and said I could continue. I felt she had gone above and beyond, and she continued to stay in regular contact with me following the surgery and when I returned to my studies and continued to offer any support I needed.”

The two weeks went very fast for Michelle as she had a several appointments with the hospital, had to complete an important exam at university and prepare for surgery by taking PCR tests and self-isolating.

Michelle said: “The surgical process for myself was quite straight forward and I returned to full operational duties after 12 weeks.

“Keely had to undergo further surgery following the transplant and is now on long-term medication but was able to return to her full-time studies in school. She is now 14 years old, dialysis free and able to enjoy being a teenager and I’m now a newly qualified Paramedic.

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“Looking back, I’m very proud of my own achievement of undertaking a university course and graduating, while working full time for the NHS through the pandemic and donating a kidney. I would like to thank all my family, friends, work colleagues and cohort for their ongoing support throughout it all.”

Nikki Williams, Head of Paramedic Studies said: “The paramedic course is very challenging and demanding, as students must learn complex medical skills as well as the theory underpinning paramedic practice, while practicing their new skills with real patients accessing emergency and unscheduled care through the Welsh Ambulance Service.

“As if working and studying during a global pandemic is not difficult enough, Michelle took a short period of leave during her studies to donate one of her kidneys to her niece! She did not think twice about the disruption to her studies, despite how hard she had worked to win a place on the course, which emphasises what a wonderful, caring, and compassionate person she is. Michelle has given her niece a priceless gift and I am so proud of her for still managing to complete her Diploma and register as a paramedic.

“I think Michelle richly deserves to be recognised for her hard work and determination and for the incredible gift she has given her niece. Michelle is a true lifesaver!”

(Lead image: Swansea University)

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