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Buckie Ladies manager Mel hails NHS for 'gift of life'

By Alan Beresford

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FOOTBALL is more important than life and death is the saying oft attributed to the great Scottish manager Bill Shankly, however, for one local team boss it has been the NHS these words have applied to.

Buckie Ladies manager Mel Smith is currently treading the long road to recovery after undergoing a kidney transplant in February at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and is currently self-isolating.

Despite having battled chronic kidney disease all her life, Mel considers herself to be fortunate.

She said: "I was probably born with this and I always knew that this would have to happen at some point.

"I've been back and forth to hospital for the past couple of years to pre-dialysis clinics as I've gradually deteriorated.

"People ask what life was like before my transplant but at the time it was my normal, I never knew any different so I didn't really think I had anything to complain about. I'm one of those people who has always pushed themselves in life, whether that was football or anything else. Looking back, I never realised that I was really unwell, I was getting tired all the time, that sort of thing.

"Even being a nurse it’s amazing I never realised what all the functions the kidneys do for you in your body.

"I feel alive, I have been given a new lease of life, it’s like day and night. I was so lucky to get a live donor, it was a young guy who gave me his kidney but I don't know much about him apart from that.

"There's so much that can go wrong but it went perfectly, the kidney was functional straight away.

"I've been so lucky."

Mel's good fortune extended to being spared the agony most transplant patients have to endure, being called to hospital to prepare for the operation only for the organ to turn out to be a false match. While awaiting her operation, Mel said she talked to some other patients who had been summoned three or four times only to have the heartbreak of being told to go home.

It took five hours of surgery from the dedicated team of specialist doctors and nurses to implant the new kidney.

"One of the first things that crosses your mind is 'Did the transplant go OK?," she continued.

"There so many things can go wrong, the biggest worry is the organ being rejected and also the fear that the kidney itself gets damaged.

"I was in Edinburgh for five days after the op and the doctors said I was a record breaker when it came to the speed of my recovery, which was a boost. I was walking in the ward two days after my op.

"I then spent two nights in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary before coming home.

"Before the coronavirus lockdown I was allowed out for a walk every day while my body recovered but since then I've been self-shielding.

"Im not complaining about shielding though as I’m so grateful and blessed to have received my transplant, it truly is a gift of life. I can never thank my donor enough for giving me his kidney.

She was also keen to share her heartfelt appreciation for the NHS.

"I can't thank everyone who played a role in my care enough for what they've done, not just the transplant team but the care I've had over the years from ARI renal unit.

"It's all been amazing, second to none. We're so lucky to have our NHS, that's something we should never forget."

Mel is typically champing at the bit to get back to work as a community nurse in Buckie, not to mention the dugout, her passion for the game undiminished by her transplant.

She said: "I can't wait to get back to work, I'll just have to wait and see how things are after I finish my 12 weeks isolation.

"I need to be out there doing something.

"I can't wait to get back to training with the team, either although again we'll have to wait and see when the current rules change. Our season was meant to run from March until October – in fact the weekend the SFA suspended all Scottish football was when we were to have our first league game of the season – so whether it will start up or just be abandoned I'm not sure."

Training and matches may be off the agenda for the foreseeable future but the Buckie Ladies squad have been far from idle, offering to help vulnerable members of the community who are finding it difficult to get out and access essential services such as doing shopping or collecting prescriptions.

Mel added: "I'm so proud of what they're doing, it's a chance to give something back to the community which has supported us over the years.

"It shows what we're made of as a squad, as a club and it's setting an example of the morals and standards Buckie Ladies is all about to the girls in our development section.

"The community and the team can't be separated and it's vital they understand that."

Of that, now, were he here to see it, Shankly would have been justifiably proud.

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