Dr. Bashir Sankari Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Pained at her sister’s struggles with serious kidney issues, 22-year-old Shayma Al Hebsi, an Emirati student in the capital, gladly parted with one of her own kidneys for the sake of her sibling.

The kidney transplant surgery for 27-year-old Fatema Al Hebsi was successfully conducted at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi recently, and both sisters are now doing well, the hospital announced on Wednesday.

“[Because of her kidney failure], Fatema had to go for kidney dialysis every other day and I used to go with her. It used to take hours and hours, and would take a lot out of her. She became very tired. We reached the point where we could not do it any longer,” Shayma said, adding that it was a no-brainer when it came to donating her own kidney.

“We all had our blood tested and it turned out that I was the only one in the family who had the same blood group. I immediately said I would be happy to give my sister a kidney. We only live once. If I did not step in and help my sister, then who would do it?” she added.

Fatema was initially diagnosed with kidney failure two years ago at the age of 25. A series of tests revealed that the kidney function had fallen to just five per cent, and that she needed regular dialysis, and a transplant as soon as possible.

The family had initially planned to fly to South Korea for the procedure. But upon coming to know of the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s transplant facilities, they opted to have the operation close to home.

The hospital, part of the Abu Dhabi Government-owned Mubadala Healthcare network, has been developing extensive transplant facilities to support a full range of transplant operations. Last year, on December 5, surgical teams carried out a multiorgan transplant, including the UAE’s first full heart transplant and two kidney transplants from a deceased donor.

Fatema’s kidney transplant was led by Dr Bashir Sankari, chief of the surgical subspecialties institute at the hospital. He has performed more than 1,000 kidney transplants during his career.

“Everything went really smoothly before and during the operation. Fatema was worried that the procedure could harm my health but in fact I feel fine. And the best thing is seeing such an improvement in my sister’s health. Before the operation, she was suffering a lot with the dialysis and always feeling tired and sick. Now she is eating healthy, she has gained weight and she is much more energetic. We feel like the sickness has left her,” Shayma said.

For her part, Fatema said she is immensely grateful to her little sister.

“I feel so much better nowadays. I can do so many things that I could never do while I was sick, and I am so thankful to my sister for this precious gift,” Fatema said.

More than 2,000 patients in the UAE are known to undergo regular dialysis, and Shayma added that she hopes their story will be an inspiration for other people in similar situations.

“Helping someone else, especially your own family like this, is a very rewarding experience. The suffering of patients like my sister is huge. The dialysis takes over their whole lives. By helping someone in this way, it makes you feel good that you have saved someone else,” she said.

Organ donations from one family member to another were the primary method for transplants performed in the UAE until the country legalised donation from deceased donors in September 2016. Worldwide, kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organs, followed by the liver and then the heart. Kidney transplants have been performed in Abu Dhabi since 2009.