June 16, 2008
Study Trip to States Brings Hope to Others
By HELEN RAE
ANURSING student who underwent a successful kidney transplant as a child proved she was an inspiration for young transplant patients all over the world.
Rachael Johnson, 21, from Annfield Plain, Durham, was born with Jeune's Syndrome and had a kidney transplant when she was just seven years old.
She is now studying BSc Nursing Studies at Northumbria University's School of Health, Community and Education Studies and has just returned from Detroit in Michigan.
Rachael worked with young transplant patients in the American city, which has a poor record for transplant success. And she has been invited back to offer counselling and help to the youngsters.
She said: "Some of the patient's life stories were particularly upsetting and I could not believe how many of these children felt so alone and that their lives were completely hopeless.
"Unfortunately, Detroit has one of the highest crime rates in the USA, and it seemed to be dominated by gang culture. Many of the patients would tell me they had lost both of their parents and many of their friends to violence, particularly gun-related crime.
"I was shocked by the poor levels of compliance amongst transplant patients, who would continue to use illegal drugs after undergoing a transplant and then find themselves suffering rejection.
"Families would ask me, 'How have you had your transplant so long?', because it was just uncomprehendible."
Rachael landed her placement in America thanks to her close personal links with the renal team at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.
"Throughout my childhood I was under the care of the paediatric renal team at the RVI and while I was on a university placement I was talking to one of the doctors who cared for me as a child about the possibility of undertaking a placement abroad," she explained.
"He told me about a paediatric nephrologist at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit who would be able to find a placement for me."
Rachael's placement was based with the kidney transplant team at the Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, where she worked on the kidney transplant ward, dialysis unit and also in the various nephrology clinics.
She also spent time with a range of other paediatric units, including the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, Emergency Department, Paediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Units and most of the wards within the hospital.
Rachael added: "My main role was to talk to the patients and families and share my experiences with them, as the healthcare system in England is very different to that in the USA. I particularly enjoyed talking to the transplant patients.
"After hearing about the impact a transplant had on my life they began to realise the opportunities that were available to them, and my mentor suggested I return to Michigan and be a counsellor."
Programme manager Debbie Porteous added: "This has been an excellent opportunity for Rachael.
"The BSc course integrates theory and practice throughout, with a higher emphasis on practice to ensure students are confident in their ability to care for people in a diverse range of settings.
"Rachael's own personal experiences and her academic training to date have enabled her to really make a difference to the lives of patients in the USA and I know this will prove to be of enormous benefit to her continued studies and her future career."
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